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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
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Sea Terms

No. 1.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXV, No. 1 (Jan 1887)
pp. 61-65.


. . . .



No. 1.

My Chum and I Take Tickets to "See The Elephant." – Outward Passage. – Arrival At Hurd's Island.

      I had taken a seat on a superannuated anchor stock, under the lee of old Green's storehouse, inhaling narcotic sola«e, not from a superb, gold-mounted and goosenecked meerschaum, but through an honest, old straight-stemmed T. D. (fifty cents a gross), and dreamily gazing at the rusty sides and bare, lower masts of the old "Vespasian," which lay on the opposite side of the pier, towering, castle-like, above it, dismantled and "stripped to a girtline."

      Yet her empty, dead-eyes appeared to grin familiarly at me, and each worn bolt-head to speak in a voice recalling old associations; for she had carried me two seasons on Kamtschatka, and bumped me gallantly back and forth among the ice-fields of the boreal regions, victoriously returning, laden nearly scuppers-to.

      She was not to be fitted again till late in the fall, and I had already been three months unattached to any vessel. My pockets were growing light, and it was time for me to be looking up a voyage to ballast them again.

      I could not afford to wait three months more for the sake of old attachments, and felt that necessity would soon drive me to form new ones elsewhere. I was roused without ceremony from my reverie, by the sound of a free, swinging step turning the corner of the storehouse, and a salute in the hearty, cheerful tones of my best-loved comrade and chum, Dave Bryant.


      "Ah, Joe! can't keep away from the old 'Vesp,' eh? You'll get seedy if you wait for her to be fitted out."

      "Why, Dave!" said I, returning the hearty grasp of his hand; "what good angel brought you back here? You must have dropped from the clouds!"

      "Not I," he replied, " though I may have called you down from the clouds; for you seemed to be building air-castles when I first hove in sight of you. But you see that I am not at all cloudy. In fact, I've been as straight as a judge these two months past."

      "Well, cloudy or not," said I, "your spirits are never 'under a cloud,' Dave. But, seriously, you haven't come back to go to sea?"

      "Yes, I have," he answered. "Are you almost ready to ship again"

      "The very thing I was thinking of when you hailed me. 1 must be off again before I find the bottom. I could get some advance money, I suppose, but I don't like the idea of going to sea so much in debt."

      "No," he returned; "it's better to sail with clean papers, than to feel all the first half of thecruise, that you are only ' working up dead horse,' as the phrase goes. But as we've had enough of the nor'-west in that old ship, what say you, Joe, let's go and see the elephant."

      "What elephant?" I asked, innocently enough. "I didn't know there was one in town."

      "Bless your verdant soul! Who said there was? There are travelers in town who have seen him, though. But come, go up to my boarding-house and take dinner with me, and then we will talk the matter over. Come on; don't make excuses. We've been shipmates to our mutual satisfaction, and I've an idea we shall be again."

      Dave Bryant was a whole-souled young fellow, a little wild, well-connected and wellinformed, who, from sheer eccentricity and love of adventure, had made the voyage with us in the " Vespasian," and was now going to sea again because he could not fix himself down to anything at home. His parents, in New York, were quite wealthy, and there were openings ready for him to lucrative employment, if be would but say the word and enter one of them.

      But Dave had, or thought he had, a distaste for each of the learned professions, and would never have succeeded in mercantile enterprises; for, as he said of himself, he hadn't a particle of tact for trade, and could never swap jaekknives without getting the worst of the bargain.

      "In short," said he, "there's no more speculation in me than there was in the eyes of iJanquo's ghost."

      So he had drifted back to the whaling port to try another adventurous cruise.

      There was no one whose presence and companionship would have been more welcome to me at that time, and I was sure that if his name went down on a ship's articles, mine would be found not far below on the same document. There was an infinite fund of jovial humor about Dave, which, like Mark Tapley's jollity, was called out and developed in full force by adverse circumstances. As I had remarked at our meeting, he was never under a cloud.

      We had appeased our sharp appetites by a hearty dinner before my friend again took up the subject to which he had before alluded.

      "While down on the wharf yesterday," he said, " I fell in with a young man named Fielding, who lately arrived in the ' Corinthian.' He seemed a fine, intelligent fellow, and we got on a long yarn together; or rather, he spun the yarns and I listened, merely putting a question now and then; for he had seen the elephant, had enjoyed the privilege of 'fighting with beasts at Ephesus,' and 1 hadn't. Well, Joe, I heard so much about Hind's Island, and the herds of sea-elephants thereon swarming, that I was ready to say with Nick Bottom in the play, 'The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, nor his tongue to conceive,' any more exciting adventure than a voyage of the kind which he described. Fielding is going out as 'beach-header' for the 'Cerberus,' a good, motherly-looking ship, in spite of her repulsive name. The schooner 'Woodlark ' goes as her tender. The expedition, or fleet, will carry about fifty men. Fielding has taken quite a liking to me, and persuaded me hard to join the ship. What say, Joe, will you wield a lance in the greasy tournament? We will see Fielding, and have it arranged that we shall be included in his beach gang when we get there; for I've no stomach for being cooped up in Royal Sound, to stand anchor-watches, and gather muscles off the rocks, and try out the blubber that the tender brings us. If we enlist, we must be in the front of the battle."


      "Yes, certainly," said I. "But where is this enchanted island?"

      "Away up in the Antarctic regions somewhere," he answered, carelessly; "the further the better. It's the very Ultima Thule of man's dominion over the fishes of the sea and the beasts of the field. .But if you could hear Fielding's description, your muscles would twitch for a chance to cut and slash amoug these amphitaZious beasts, as Mrs. Partington has it. Land whaling, eh, Joe?"

      ''Well, go in, Dave. If you are determined to see the elephant, I'm with you. Let's ship in the tender, for I suppose the beach-header will go out in her, and we shall be sure to be stationed where the fun is."

      Within half an hour we had seen Fielding, been introduced at head-quarters, and the names of Dave Bryant and Joe Gordon were added to the motley collection of autographs on the papers of schooner "Woodlark," tender to ship " Cerberus," bound on a voyage "to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, or elsewhere;" and a week later, the rising sun of a fine July morning shone upon the white canvas of the stout old ship, and the trim and saucy fore-and-after, as they passed out by Montauk, and sped away on their long and adventurous cruise.

      The island for which we were bound, lies in the Incian Ocean, in latitude fifty-three south, and about three hundred miles southeast of the great Island Kerguelen, more commonly called "Desolation." It was, comparatively, a new discovery, having been visited by a few vessels which had been very successful, and reported it swarming with sea-elephants.

      As the "Woodlark" sailed, in moderate weather, much faster than the ship, it was not expected that we should make the passage in compam; but each vessel was to make the best of her way to arrive at the rendezvous as oarly as possible. We mustered twentj un a on board the tender, while "The Admiral," as we called the "Cerberus," carried thirty more.

      We were to look in at Three Island Harbor, in Desolation, and if the ship had not arrived at that anchorage, we were to proceed alone to Hurd's Island, and land all the force that could be spared, to put up the shanty, which was on board, framed and ready to be put together. We were to collect as much blubber as possible for two or three weeks, when the schooner, still leaving most of her men on the beach, was to return to Desolation, by which time the ship would probably meet her there with further supplies and reinforcements.

      Only one landfall was made between Montauk Point and Desolation, which was the barren, rock-bound shore called Inaccessible Island; one of those commonly known as the islands of Tristan D'Acunha. The sight of this rock brought foicibly to the mind the thrilling story of the wreck of an East Indiaman, called, I think, the "Blendenhall," cast away here, and the subsequent adventures and sufferings of the survivors, which had so fascinated us when schoolboys.

      After passing this latitude, we met with a succession of gales and rugged weather, with little intermission, until we made the land on the east coast of Desolation. Three or four of our crew had already seen the elephant, having visited Hurd's Island the previous season, and their long yarns assisted to while away the time through those long, dark, dismal nights when our little craft waa rolling her way across the Southern Ocean, more under than above the sea, with every hatch securely battened down, filling the space above deck nearly level with the rails as she wallowed in the trough, and seeming to struggle for life at each recoil; or, when lying to, as we were several times obliged to do, pitching and . plunging in a way that threatened to break her back, or throw the masts out of her. But she proved her excellent qualities as a sea-boat, and made the passage without accident, scarcely carrying away a ropeyarn.

      My chum, Dave Bryant, was the life and soul of our little world during this severe and tedious run. Ready at all times with the laugh, song and jest, his courage and spirits seemed to rise higher the greater the emergency.

      "Joe," he said, "it's perfectly glorious to see this little vessel behave as she docs in a sea-way like this. She is as buoyant as a cork, and so that we keep the hatches well secured, she is just as safe as the old flagship, though not quite so comfortable; for, I must admit, I've hardly had a dry foot since we passed Good Hope. But everything has its advantages, and even we 'square-rigged sailors ' must allow that a vessel like this is easily handled, for we've only to let go halyards, and the sail is in and the ropes coiled up. Then, if we were on board the 'Cerbe-


rus,' we might have some work to do at washing decks; but the little one does all that herself."

      We made better weather of it after getting under the lee of Desolation, and, stretching into Royal Sound, a boat was sent up into Three Island Harbor. But, as we expected, the " Cerberus" had not yet made her appearance at the rendezvous. The "Phseton," which sailed a few days earlier from home, was snugly moored in this well-sheltered bay, where vessels may ride the year round in perfect safety. Her tender had preceded us to Hurd's Island, so that we were disappointed as to getting the first cut. But, swallowing our vexation, we made sail to the south-east, and crowded hard to make up our lost time.

      We made the land in thick weather, being almost in the breakers before we discovered it, and were compelled to try the capabilities of our trim little "Woodlark " to the utmost, in clawing off shore. We passed the north point of the island in a howling gale, and ran down for the anchorage; which is nothing but an open roadstead known to the initiated by the familiar appellation of "The Bight," and formed by a slight curve of the eastern coast.

      Two vessels with all their light hamper sent down, lay moored here, one of which we knew to be the "Ripple," tender to the "Phaeton," while her companion, a bark, showed English colors. We chose a berth between the two, and came to with our best anchor in nine fathoms.

      Nothing more sterile and desolate can be conceived, than the appearance of this isolated hummock in the waste of waters, where we expected to pass many months of our voyage. A rocky and barren line of coast offered no points of relief for the eye to rest upon. Marked with the seal of utter desolation, the whole island appeared adapted only as a stopping-place, not strictly a home, for aquatic birds and amphibious beasts. Directly abreast the anchorage, in the bight, was a narrow strip of beach, where landing was practicable, but one season's work had sufficed to hunt the sea-elephants from this spot, and drive them to other haunts, more distant, and more difficult of access.

      The vessels, where they lay, were well sheltered by the land from west and southwest gales, but the dreaded "norther" sweeps down upon the anchorage with unbroken fury, and directly under our lee, with

      the wind from that quarter, distant not more than a mile, with frightful, outlying rocks at its base, rose a bold, savage-looking bluff, known as " The Iceberg." This was, more properly speaking, the surface of an immense glacier, which extends several miles through the middle of the island, and sends out spurs, east and west, to the coasts. Beyond the glaciers a long, low point extended several miles to the southward, on which the surf was breaking heavily.

      There, doubtless, our voyage was to be made, if at all; but landing was impossible until the wind should shift and blow off shore. So we made all as snug as we could with the schooner, by sending down topmasts, and putting the second anchor in readiness for dropping. But to avoid the inconvenience of fouling and cleaning hause, it is necessary that each vessel should be provided with one very heavy chain and anchor as her main dependence,'riding, for the most part, by a single cable. With two thousand pounds of iron attached to an inchand-a-half chain, we felt that our little vessel of ninety tons was well secured against any ordinary emergency.

      Two boats came alongside, – one from the "Ripple," the other from the bark "Garrick," of Hobart Town, who had outsailed her tender, now daily expected. These vessels had not done much as yet, and their crews reported but very few elephants on the beach near us. There were swarms of them on the long, low point, for the schooner's boat had been down to reconnoitre, and approached quite near the beach, but found the breakers too heavy to venture an attempt at landing.

      If we could make a descent amongst these monsters, success was certain. They had hitherto been undisturbed, as the few visitors here had found enough to make up their cargoes without going so far. Our guests, though they had been here but a few days, put on all the airs of veterans in the business, while on board the "Woodlark," and gravely proceeded to enlighten us new-comers in the details of elephant-hunting, though we had several of the initiated among us, besides Mr. Fielding, who knew as much about it as themselves. It was amusing to the rest of us to listen to the discussion, as the professional technicalities were somewhat ludicrous.

      "You observe, Joe," said my chum, "that these old hunters distinguish the male


and female elephants by the same terms used among whalemen, as bulls and cows; but – a strange inconsistency – the progeny of the two is always a 'pup.' We never hear of a calf-elephant. It seems to me that the pup is the greatest btdl of all."

      "They are bull-terriers, perhaps," said I, "which would account for the term ' pups.' But what do they mean by a ' slim-skin ?'"

      "One that has lost all his fat, I suppose," replied Dave. "As we speak of a ' dry-skin' whale."

      "And a ' pod ' of elephants, as I take it, means a body or congregation of them."

      "Certainly; as we would say a 'school' of sperm whales, or a 'game' of right whales."

      "And an elephant ' hauls' when he comes up from the surf onto the beach. I suppose we shall gradually get initiated into the terms 'brown cows ' and 'March bulls.' 'Young bulls' are 'hauling' now, I understand. But I'm in a hurry to get ashore, and build the shanty."

      "We shall build it on the point, I presume, beyond The Iceberg, and we shall get no chance to do it until the wind hauls to the south-west."

      As the surf still ran high the next morning, Fielding proposed to the captain to make a reconnoissance by landing in the bight, and traveling over the glacier. Consent was obtained, and he selected Bryant and myself to accompany him. We were soon equipped, and found no difficulty in landing.

      Gangs rigged up temporary shelters, and we saw a few elephants which they had killed during the night, and carcasses of others, which had been stripped of their fat, lay scattered about the ground in various stages of decomposition. The bleached bones, protruding thickly from the sand at every step in our path, were relics of last season's slaughter. Fielding thought he could recognize many of them as his own prey, and pointed out particular localities, on our route, where he had assisted at the killing of vast numbers the year before.

      "But they'll never haul here again in any force, so as to make it a paying business," he said. "It's only a few scattering ones that they are killing here. This place is worked out, and we must push further, and find them where they have not been hunted. If we can find a path over The Iceberg, we will ' see the elephant' in his glory."

      It was, perhaps, eight o'clock in the morning when we had passed all the old landmarks which were familiar to our leader, and were fairly started on our expedition of discovery. It was the last of October, which is the southern spring, corresponding to April in our latitudes; but it was still cold, with occasional light snow-squalls, and a raw, cutting blast, so that monkey-jackets and mittens were seasonable traveling companions. We were all armed, though our cruise was rather for purposes of prospecting than hunting. The officer bore his trusty rifle on his shoulder, while Dave and 1 carried lances; all of us being provided with the inevitable butcher-knife and steel, which form a part of every elephant hunter's equipment, and without which he never goes abroad.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Beyond Desolation - No. 1.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jan 1887)
Pages: 61-65