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. 2.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LXV, No. 2 (Feb 1887)
pp. 145-148.



No. 2.

Over the Glacier and Down into the Promised Land. – Description Thereof. – We are "Marooned" by a Norther.

      We pushed onward up the craggy ascent, leaping briskly from rock to rock; for active exertion was necessary to warm our blood. The air grew colder as we ascended, and the rock became merged in the icy formation.

      The glacier was perhaps six hundred feet high at its summit, and appeared to be overlaid with sand and loose gravel, the ice cropping out here and there from under the crust, like the formations in Eecholtz Bay, described in Kotzebue's arctic voyage. Even at its highest elevation, fragments of rock of considerable size were to be found. Cracks and fissures often beset our course, but none so wide that we could not spring across them. The wind blew chill upon us, and we did not tarry long to make observations. We kept steadily in view the main object of our expedition—to descend the other side of it, and view the mine of living wealth on the low land beyond.

      Dave Bryant, who was lithe and active as a cat, in his eagerness to be the first to behold the promised land, rushed onward at a pace that left Fielding and myself considerably in the background. The futility of a stern chase was soon apparent to us both, and we somewhat relaxed our exertions. Dave was perhaps two hundred yards in advance of us, as we neared the southern verge of the mountain. Suddenly we observed him climbing a pinnacle which appeared large enough to furnish standingroom for half-a-dozen men, where he paused, and, swinging his lance aloft, shouted, " Eureka!"

      We hurried pantingly on, to share the delight of our shipmate. As he stood there, with hit arms raised in ecstasy, memory went back to Vasco Nunez de Balboa on the Isthmus of Panama, as depicted in my old school history.

      "Eureka!" shouted Bryant again. "I have looked upon Canaan! Big bull, medium cow, and little pup to make stowage! I say, Joe, this must have been one of the 'isles of grease,' of which the poet sang."

      We stood, all three together, on the little elevation, and joined in an involuntary shout of joy. It woke no echoes at that height, but was borne away to leeward at once on the chilly blast. Descending then from the pinnacle, we ran forward a short distance; and, cold as it was, sat down on the verge of the precipice to admire the strange wild panorama that lay spread out beneath us.

      The vast, eternal formation of ice, on the eastern spur of which we were sitting, terminated a short distance from our feet, blending into a succession of hills and crags, at some points precipitous, but gradually diminishing in elevation down to the low part of the island. This part narrowed by degrees, stretching away into a flat, sandy point, which extended five or six miles in a southeasterly direction. The surf was rolling majestically into the arc, and breaking on the north shore of the point with a power that threatened destruction to any one rash enough to attempt landing.

      To the south-west, inland, the soil was broken into turf-knolls, or " tussocks," of a dull brown color, which, with the advancing season, were beginning to show patches of green, though it was evident the island produced no vegetation of any considerable size.

      In the surf, on the beach, and even away up inland, the huge beasts which we came to seek were swarming in myriads, reveling in blissful unconsciousness of their relentless enemy, man. Their black muzzles could be seen, uplifted above the knolls, as far to the south-west as it was possible to distinguish them from our elevation. It was the beginning of what is known as " young bull season," and they were hauling by the thousands, accompanied by the pups which had gone to sea with their mothers in August.

      Countless millions of the gaudy king-penguin spangled the point, looking, when at rest, like battalions of soldiers in uniform, b.ut when in motion more like unsteady old ladies in gay-colored neckerchiefs. Clouds of aquatic birds hovered and screamed overhead. A gust of wind rose as we sat gazing,


putting the fine sand in motion, and thus obscuring the distant view. But as far as could be seen down the point, the picture was instinct with animal life.

      "Come on," said Mr. Fielding, " let's go down into the lowlands and make observations. Here's work enough for us, as soon as the surf goes down. The whole fleet of vessels will be here in a fortnight, and then this point will be turned into a great slaughter-pen."

      Wc found the descent quite difficult, in some places precipitous, and were obliged to make a zigzag course. We gained the beach, however, without accident, and wound our way among the unwieldy monsters, who appeared to entertain little fear of us. They merely raised their heads and stared at us with growls of astonishment rather than terror, while the penguins waddled alongside of us with the utmost confidence. We might have knocked them over by whole platoons with our lnnce-poles.

      As we followed the shore down into the bend of the point, we found the beach thickly strewn with blocks and fragments of ice, of all sizes and forms, which had been broken away from the sea-face of the glacier, and tossed about at the sport of the sea, until throw up in the rollers. This undermining process is continually going on during the prevalence of northerly winds, immense masses tumbling into the sea. But the icy wall still pushes forward, and the loss is made good by accumulation during the rigorous winter.

      With the wind on our backs we strode on, determined, if time allowed, to make a complete circuit of the low part of the island before returning to the vessel. The cape narrowed as we advanced, giving us a view of the ocean on both sides of us, and we found it comparatively smooth on the southwest beach.

      High and dry on the point, about four miles below the glacier, wc came upon a spar, half-buried in the drifted sand, which, on examination, proved to be the mainyard of a ship of a thousand tons or more. It bore marks of having lain there several years. Still further down, near the end of the point, a cook-house or galley of large size, which had perhaps belonged to the same vessel, stood upright, firmly bedded, and the drift banked up around it. It was still in good condition, and open only on the lee side.

      Its position seemed not to have been accidental, but indicated the work of human hands. We were not, as we supposed, the first human beings who had stood on thisspot. But for what purpose shipwrecked mariners should have reared the galley where it now stood, on the extremity of this sandy spit, was, like all else connected with their hidden taste, a matter of mystery and vague conjecture. They could have found more comfortable quarters further up in the tussock land.

      All this time we had been ploughing our way through a wilderness of fine Band, which, put in motion by the gale, filled the air with a cloud of subtle dust, half blindiDg us. When the heavier gusts struck us, we were compelled to bury our heads in our jacket-collars, and, as Dave expressed it , "go it blind."

      "You see, Joe," he said, sidling close up to me, and gasping for breath, as a heavier blast than usual swept down, almost lifting us off our feet, " Hie sea-elephant is something of a blower, and delights in wind. Now I judge there is but one gale a year here, and that lasts the whole three hundred and sixty-five days—with now and then au occasional lull. Whe-ew! sackcloth and ashes! How much sand have you swallowed since you landed? I've got more than half a peck about me now, in my eyes—ears— nose—mouth—pockets! The simoon of the African Desert is nothing to it!"

      "Boys," said Fielding, " we have stood far enough on this tack " (for we were nearly at the extremity of the point); " we'll cross over, and work up the other shore, where we will make better weather of it. It will be only fun to kill and skin out a cargo of oil here," he continued, " if we can get it on board. I know well enough that can be done by taking advantage of slants of weather. You see there is very little surf on this beach now. Well. I have seen it just as smooth on the north side, when the wind has been blowing from the opposite quarter. There is nothing to hinder a vessel with such ground tackle as we have got, from anchoring within a quarter of a mile, and running lines to the shore. She must be ready, of course, to heave up and make sail quickly, in case of a norther blowing up suddenly."

      "But, Mr. Fielding, don't you mean to pitch in and kill a lot of these elephants before we go back to the schooner? " asked Dave, who could hardly conquer the temp-


tation to flesh his lance and begin a general massacre without orders.

      "No, no," answered our leader. "Keep «ool and have patience. Don't let's have any wanton destruction, nor killing anything till we see our way clear to get it off the beach. A business of this kind ought to be regulated; and if all who come here could by controlled by stringent laws, this island would be profitable for many seasons to c:ome. Whereas the chances are that it will be worked out in three years."

      "Do you really think so?" I asked, with some show of incredulity; for the stock seemed to me to be inexhaustible.

      "Yes, I do," he answered. "There will be ten or a dozen gangs here this season. If they all get cargoes, next year there will be forty, and that will about finish it up. As each one looks only to the immediate success of his present cruise, they will make a general slaughter of pups and all. Thousands of elephants have been killed at other hunting-grounds in this ocean that never benefited any one, and thousands of barrels of oil have been left to run out into the sand after the blubber was skinned off and thrown into heaps."

      "A very simple way, that, of extracting the oil," said the incorrigible Bryant, "and a great saving of labor, as compared with the antiquated process of trying it out by fire."

      "Yes," returned Fielding, humoring the joke. "The results are highly satisfactory as a mere matter of experiment, though not peculiarly so to the parties concerned. The saturated sand is not available for commercial purposes; but the oil is all pressed out, and the quality is very fine. It is clearer and lighter in color than that boiled out in the ordinary way."

      "I would suggest an improvement," said Dave. "The process might be accelerated by throwing upon the heap a ton or two of big stones, which may always be found conveniently at hand."

      "That's true. But, joking aside, the waste of oil in this business is positively awful. I have heard of a case where a gang from an English vessel traveled overland, as we have done this morning, and came down upon a beach inaccessible by sea, on the weather aide of Desolation. There they slaughtered and skinned, till they estimated they had aotne two thousand barrels, trusting to have * slant to get it off. But, after waiting till it got pretty mellow, and finding no prospect of weather suitable to work the beach, and that they must leave the coast without being able to secure it, they set the heaps on fire and burned them up. The placo is known as 'Bonfire Beach' to this day, and is so laid down on the late charts."

      We were less troubled by the wind and sand as we drew up under the lee of the hills. The penguins, or "woggins," as Fielding termed them, became more numerous than heretofore, and we perceived that the multitudes we had seen on the point were merely skirmishers. The main body were assembled in an immense colony, or "rookery," under the shelter of a high hill, not far from the western bluff of the glacier.

      We crossed a wet ravine, or gulchway, where the small elephants were collected in such numbers as almost to fill it with a solid, living mass. Struggling up the further bank, we found ourselves near a large body of water, which we had seen when going down the north shore, and which we then supposed to be an arm of the sea, or lagoon.

      "I see no outlet to it," said Fielding. "It must be a pond. Let's cross over and examine it."

      "Why not call it a lake?" suggested Dave. "It must be near a mile across. The name would have a grander sound, and we have a right to christen all the discoveries we make. 'Fielding's Lake,' for instance."

      "It is large enough to be so called, but there is no great depth to it, for you can see elephants hauling nearly in the middle of it, with head and shoulders out."

      We found the water slightly brackish, which we accounted for by supposing that, in very heavy gales, the sea might break over the point and mix with the waters of the pond.

      Leaving it without a formal christening, we entered among the knolls or tussock land, where the clumps rose abruptly from two to four feet high, like gigantic mushrooms. The ground between was wet and spongy, and this singular formation extended even to the very base of the rocky hills that enclosed the glacier. The bunches were, in most cases, too widely separated to admit of stepping from one to another, so that we were obliged to wind a tortuous course between them. Here and there, as we turned a corner, we would stumble unexpectedly upon a huge elephant. He would rouse up with a startled growl from his recumbent attitude, and


flounder out of our path, giving the alarm to another, who would elevate his black muzzle, and glare at us from behind a neighboring tussock.

      As we approached the great penguin rookery, the clamor and din were deafening. Armies of these strange birds, if birds they can be called, were congregated under the lee of a cliff, occupying a large space of ground in almost solid phalanx. The knolls were here worn and beaten down, till they presented only wavy undulations, and the whole face of the soil poached into a porridge by the tread of millious of webbed feet. Confident in their numbers, they stood their ground, making the air vocal with hideous cries. We were glad to hurry onward and increase our distance from the ear-splitting sound, till mellowed away into the steady, monotonous croaking, which, being constantly heard, seemed like the voices of the genii of this strange, wild place.

      A running stream or river was soon after met with, which appeared to flow south-west into the sea, but we had not time to explore its windings. The wind had gradually risen to a fierce gale, though we had not felt its effects where we were. We hardly realized the fact until we again turned towards the north beach, to retrace our steps to the bight where the schooner lay.

      Coasting round the south bank of the pond, we came out upon the sea-shore, where,blinded by moving clouds of sand, we pressed windward, in a vain endeavor to obtain a sight of the vessels at anchor in the roadstead. Nothing could be seen through the driving mist; indeed, we could scarcely open our eyes at all except by turning our faces to leeward, while the deafening roar of the breakers at our feet drowned the sound of our voices.

      It required no words, however, to make us sensible of the situation. We all saw at once the impossibility of scaling the glacier in the teeth of a norther. We must pass the night on shore, and perhaps several day* might elapse before we could reach the schooner. At present all was hidden in the direction of "The Bight," and we had but vague ideas of distance, but judged ourselves at least two miles from that part of the glacier where we had descended.

      "Look for drift-wood!" said Fielding, with his mouth close to my ear. "We must camp out to-night."

      We struggled about in the sand, not daring to separate more than a few yards, for fear of losing each other, in which case we might wander all night without meeting again. We collected a few small pieces of timber and boards, and our leader, tucking his share under his arm, signaled to us to form in close order. Burying our faces to the eyes in our jackets, we started, each carrying his load of drift-wood, and struck inland, shaping our course towards the great penguin rookery.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Beyond Desolation - No. 3.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 65, No. 2 (Feb 1887)
Pages: 145-148