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Towards the end of the month of February, 1840, I began anxiously to expect the return of Professor Stuwitz, of whom I had heard no intelligence during the winter. In seasons of ordinary severity his return by sea to St. John's would have been impossible; and he intended to have made for the nearest port that was free from ice, and have come on overland. The mildness of the weather, hitherto, had prevented any great accumulation of ice along the coast, although the harbour was frequently skinned over, and its mouth alternately opened and blocked up by ice and frozen snow on each influx and reflux of the tide. Two or three severe days would have been sufficient to close it entirely, or a field of ice from the northward might drift down and beset the whole coast. However, on the 25th, I had the satisfaction of seeing his boat making her way into the harbour, and he soon landed on the wharf. He had suffered greatly, having frequently been out at sea all night in his open boat in the severest weather: he had, however, made many good observations, and collected specimens of the land and sea fauna both of St. Peter's and Fortune Bay. There was now but little time left to make arrangements for our voyage to the ice. The generality of the vessels "going to the ice" are schooners and brigs from 80 to 150 tons, manned by a stout crew of rough fishermen, with a skipper at their head of their own stamp. These ships are inconceivably filthy, being often saturated with oil; and crew and skipper all live and lie together in a narrow dark cabin of the smallest possible dimensions, and the fewest possible conveniences, everything being in common. In such a vessel as this it was evidently impossible for us to be accommodated, nor would either crew or skipper have consented to take us. There are, however, one or two masters of ships of a superior description who reserve the after-cabin to themselves, and keep the crew in the forecastle. Among these, one of the most respectable was Mr. Furneaux, who having been at one time unsuccessful as a merchant, had retrieved his fortune by successful sealing enterprises; and he had just built a new vessel called the Topaz, a brigantine of 120 tons, in which he was going out for the first time. She had a comfortable little after-cabin, with small staterooms, containing altogether five berths. This cabin he agreed to share with us; Professor Stuwitz and his baggage were to occupy one state-room, myself and servant another, while the larger and after state-room was reserved for Captain Furneaux and his more important stores of powder, spirits, &c. I had discharged Kelly, and engaged a young fellow named Simon Grant, a clean, active, good-tempered lad, who was to act as cabin-steward and cook. Our expedition was looked upon in St. John's as rather a Quixotic undertaking, no one, except the men actually engaged, having yet had the curiosity "to go to the ice;" and these men either could not give clear descriptions, or purposely made rather a mystery of the matter. At length, on
Tuesday, March 3rd.-We had got everything on board, and were all ready for a start. The wind was in the morning unfavourable, but began to get variable towards the middle of the day, and we were anxiously looking for a change. Being heartily tired of waiting, however, and Captain Furneaux saying he should not start for an hour or two, at least, I strolled with the gentleman at whose wharf the vessel lay into the billiard-room. We had finished three rubbers, when, happening to look out of the back window, we saw over the roofs of the houses the topsails of a vessel loose, with the house flag of my companion at the masthead: throwing down our cues, we rushed into the street, and the first person we met informed us that messengers were searching for us all over the town. I found on the wharf-head a host of friends assembled to take leave, the vessel with her sails loose and only moored by a single rope, and a punt alongside waiting for me. I jumped into the punt, sculled off, clambered up the side of the vessel as they cast off the rope, and before I could get my foot on the deck we were under sail. Three cheers greeted us from the wharf as our sails filled, and the crew were called aft to return it: one cheer more from the wharf-head, and we were off. The harbour was covered with thin ice, and frozen snow, that yielded before the pressure of the vessel; and, as we slowly advanced, cheers resounded from several others of the wharfs as their respective vessels cast off their moorings and set sail. We passed two smaller vessels which were stuck fast in a pan of ice, and endeavouring to make their way out; another brig joined us as we entered the Narrows, in company with which we sailed from the harbour and lay alongshore to the northward. In consequence of my billiard playing I had lost my dinner, but we had hardly gone a mile before ;he keen air recalled this fact to my recollection, and I dived into the cabin to examine the interior of a meat pie. This was about four PM, and yet at half-past seven I was at supper with the rest, with a hearty appetite, on hot beefsteaks. Our vessel, the Topaz, seemed to sail very well on a wind, as we drew ahead of all the vessels we came near. The swell was very trifling, and there were scarcely any waves. The surface of the water was in a half congealed state, and had a thick greasy appearance, as if it were of the consistence of pea soup: this was owing either to a quantity of snow resting on the water, or to the first formation of small spiculae of ice, and it gave a very peculiar appearance to the long lazy swell of the sea. At sunset we were off Cape St. Francis, with a long line of white on the northeastern horizon, showing the edge of the ice to be in that direction. During the night, while fast asleep in my berth, I was awakened by a loud rushing and roaring noise, with continued vibration and heavy jars now and then, which I found to proceed from the ship having entered the ice, the thin sheets of which were scraping and rubbing against her sides, while here and there a heavy lump shook her as she struck it. At last we stuck fast, and the crew were then called to free her, and she was put about, sailed back to the southward, and kept more inshore in a broad channel between the ice and the land.
March 4th.-At daylight this morning we were just at the entrance of Trinity Bay, and should have been much farther but for the detention of last night. A broad belt of clear water stretched across Trinity Bay, from Baccalieu Island to Cape Bonavista, while ice occupied the interior of the Bay on the one hand, and stretched off far away to the north-ward on the other. Many vessels were in sight, some in the clear water, others in the ice. Near two of the latter, which were in the ice five or six miles to the north of us, we could just discern some little black dots the ice was loose and broken, we pushed through, doubled the Cape, and then followed a small channel, in the direction of two or three vessels ahead. In a mile or two this likewise closed, and for the rest of the evening we continued sailing about in such pools of smooth water as were left in the intervals of the ice. The aspect of this ice was very different from that of freshwater ice, being much softer, quite white, and opaque, and looking rather like frozen snow than ice. It was generally about a foot thick, but was cracked in every possible direction, and broken into large cakes or pans, of all shapes and sizes, that were sometimes jammed and crushed together, and sometimes slowly moved on and made to revolve by the grinding of their edges together. Frequently one piece was tilted up and rested partly on another, and here and there small pieces were lying loose on the surface of others. The sides and edges of the pans seemed frequently water-worn into holes and hollows, and sharp spurs sometimes projected under water. Some of these masses of ice of a smaller size had been washed and worn on all sides by the waves into the most irregular and fantastic shapes, now resembling the turrets and battlements of an ancient castle, and presently shifting and looking like the picturesque cliffs of a rocky shore. It was a lovely evening, mild, and pleasant on deck, the thermometer not having been below 40° Fahr. during the day. South of us lay the head-land of Cape Bonavista, from which the varied shores of the Bay stretched away to the northwest, the surface of the land being patched and streaked with snow. Seaward was one vast expanse of white ice, with small lakes of dark water dotting its surface here and there, but the dreariness of this view was relieved by the number of vessels in sight.
This evening the crew were divided into watches and punts crews, and prepared their bats and gaffs, expressions whose meaning will be better understood by the following description of the method adopted in manning a sealing vessel. The vessel undertakes to carry a certain number of men, and she is fitted out, provisioned, and found in everything by her owner, or a merchant hiring her, as the case may be. The men then apply for a berth on board of her, and all those who are selected pay so much for their berth, generally about four pounds currency, and for this they are supplied with the ships' provisions during the voyage. The results of the voyage on their return are divided into two equal halves, one of which is shared among the men, the other divided between the captain and merchant in different proportions, according to their agreement or their various shares in the risk of the speculation. Captain Furneaux was both master and owner of the Topaz, and I believe he bore all the risk of the voyage, paying for her supplies and engaging his crew. The crew consisted of thirty-six men, who were divided into three watches, each under an appointed master of the watch, specifically engaged under that designation, and receiving something more than the rest of the crew. The men had each equal authority, and each acted as mate during his own watch, the charge of the deck being left to his care when the captain was below. We carried nine four-oared punts, three of them commanded by the three masters of the watch, and the other six by men picked from the crew, and likewise appointed by the captain. These punt-masters then drew lots, each one putting some article, such as a knife, &c., into a cap or bag, which was brought to the captain, who drew the articles out at random, and as he drew them out their owners were arranged accordingly. Then, in the order in which they were thus arranged, each in succession selected a punt out of the nine on deck, and afterwards chose the men to make up his crew. Each punt had, therefore, three men and a master attached to it, who alone were suffered to man it; and in cases of emergency, by calling out the number of the punt or the name of its master, it was ready and manned, without confusion or delay. This having been settled every man prepared his "gaff," by firmly fastening a spiked hook like a boat-hook, with strong line, to the head of a stout pole, about six or eight feet long; several yards of strong cord were also selected, which were prepared with a noose, for a "hauling rope," the use of which will be seen hereafter.
By the time that all these arrangements were made night was falling; and running the vessel's nose into a stout pan of ice alongside, we brailed up and furled our sails, and lay secure and motionless as if moored to a wharf.
March 5th.-This morning was dark and foggy, with the wind at southeast. At seven o'clock, after making a tack or two about an open lake, and finding no channel, we dashed into the ice, with all sail set, in company with two other vessels, on a northnorthwest course. The ice soon got firmer, thicker, and heavier, and we shortly stuck fast. "Overboard with you! gaffs and pokers!" sung out the captain; and over went, accordingly, the major part of the crew to the ice. The pokers were large poles of light wood, six or eight inches in circumference, and twelve or fifteen feet long: pounding with these, or hewing the ice with axes, the men would split the pans near the bows of the vessel, and then, inserting the ends of the pokers, use them as large levers, lifting up one side of the broken piece and depressing the other, and several getting round with their gaffs, they shoved it, by main force, under the adjoining ice. Smashing, breaking, and pounding the smaller pieces in the course the vessel wished to take, room was afforded for the motion of the larger pans. Laying out great claws on the ice ahead, when the wind was light the crew warped the vessel on. If a large and strong pan was met with, the ice-saw was got out. Sometimes, a crowd of men clinging round the ship's bows, and holding on to the bights of ropes suspended there for the purpose, would jump and dance on the ice, bending and breaking it with their weight, shoving it below the vessel, and dragging her on over it with all their force. Up to their knees in water, as one piece after another sank below the cutwater, they still held on, hurrahing at every fresh start she made, dancing, jumping, pushing, shoving, hauling, hewing, sawing, till every soul on board was roused into excited exertion. After looking on some time, I could stand it no longer: so, seizing a gaff, I jumped overboard, but soon got a damper, as, in my first essay to cross before the vessel, I did not distinguish the sound pieces from the mere broken mash and lolly, and in I went to my middle before I was aware of it. One of the men caught hold of me, and I scrambled up the side of the vessel, a little cooler than I went down. Every fresh hand, they said, has to pay his footing for his first dip: so I was obliged not only to lose my footing in water myself, but give it afterwards in rum to the crew. They continued their exertions the whole of the day, relieved occasionally by small open pools of water; and in the evening we calculated we had made about fifteen miles.
It continued foggy all day, and at night it began to rain. We had seen no vessel since the morning-nothing but a dreary expanse of ice and snow stretching away into the misty horizon.
March 6th.-At daylight we found ourselves a few miles from Greenspond, on the north side of Bonavista Bay, and with the glass could discern the houses and the church. The wind was from the west and the sky fine and clear. Several vessels were near us, and many more on the horizon. The ice became thicker, stronger, and more compact. We made a few miles in the morning, and stuck fast the rest of the day in a very large pan or field of ice, sawing, axing, prising, warping, &c. &c., as yesterday. The thermometer during the day was about 37°, and the weather pleasant. I walked about on the ice to get accustomed to it. In the afternoon a long swell came in from the eastward, raising the field of ice in long slow undulations as far as we could see. There was, however, no open water visible in any direction from the masthead. In the evening it was mild, with a drizzling rain.
March 7th.-Fresh breeze from west and northwest, cold but fine. A vessel close by left St. John's just after we did; her captain came on board and made a morning call. The ice gets continually heavier as we proceed to the northward; great blocks and slabs of it are tilted up and piled on one another here and there, as if occasionally jammed and forced together with great violence. In the afternoon the ice opened a little, the pans became more loose, and separated a little one from the other. We accordingly crowded all sail, and cracked on with a fresh breeze, urging our way now through slowly yielding pans, now sailing gallantly through an open lake of water, and then crashing into a great sheet of ice, splitting it with a mighty fissure, but brought up ourselves all standing and top-gallants set. Then, slowly gathering way again, we proceeded as before. The motion while in the ice is like that of a steamer, continually trembling and vibrating with the thumping and rubbing of the ice, while the scraping of the pieces against the sides of the vessel makes a noise like the roar of machinery. The weather was fine and clear, and in the afternoon we got one or two good runs through some large lakes of water, and hove-to during the night in a smaller one, the wind blowing a heavy breeze.
March 8th.-Quite calm this morning, with large pieces of ice all around us. I shot a sea-bird, called in Newfoundland a mur, which is, I believe, some species of mergulus; and saw also a large snowy owl flying about, but could not get a shot. I found also on a piece of ice the greater portion of one of the common echini of Newfoundland, broken, and full of dried mud. This must have been inclosed in the ice originally on the beach, in some bay or inlet, as, if brought by a bird, it would have contained no dirt. We were now, however, at least forty miles from land, and surrounded by ice on all sides. In the course of the morning I spied a great seal on the ice about a quarter of a mile off, and, taking my rifle and a man with a gaff, went to get a shot. We found, however, the ice in that direction broken by many channels full of "lolly," which were too wide to leap. In returning, I slipped in jumping from one pan to another, and fell into some of this "lolly:" luckily I had passed the gun to the man, and he had given me the gaff, which, as I fell, was caught by its ends upon the ice, and by this means I got across to my companion, who hauled me out. I had heavy sealskin boots on, coming half way up the thigh, which being now full of lolly formed a delightful case for my leg had I wished it frozen. However, the ducking seemed to do me good, and, oddly enough, quite cured a cold which I had felt coming on before the accident. In the evening a cold north wind sprang up, and the ice closed in on every side, locking us quite fast. Thermometer on deck at six PM 24°.
Last night, as we sailed rapidly through the broken ice and water, there was an abundance of the phosphorescent flashes and sparks so well known at sea. Many of these sparks were observed, not only in the water, but either in or upon the small lumps of ice. They must probably have been in the water which washed over the ice, but they had every appearance of being in the ice, whose interior appeared to be lit up by them. They were most beautiful objects, and might have formed fitting lamps for the caves of the Nereids. Stuwitz found infusoria in ice in Fortune Bay, which, when the ice was melted, were living and uninjured.
March 9th.-Light wind from north. Thermometer at nine AM 22°, and in the afternoon 27°. We passed this morning through some very heavy ice. It was broken and piled in huge slabs and blocks, resting one upon another in various directions, the cracks and crevices filled up with snow, and frequently worn by successive thaws and frosts, rains, winds, and waves, into the most striking and fantastic forms. This broken ice occupied a rather definite band for some distance, and appeared to have been once the external edge of the ice on which a heavy sea had beat violently. Many of these blocks were higher than the rail of the vessel, or about fifteen or twenty feet from the surface of the sea, and as many yards in diameter, with upright sheets and pinnacles rising occasionally still higher.
March 10th.-At dawn a gale from the south brought rain and dirty weather, and we lay all day fast in the ice with our sails furled. In the afternoon we filled all the watercasks that had up to this time been emptied with beautifully clear fresh water, collected in the hollow of a pan alongside of us. After dark the wind fell, and the clouds gradually cleared off before a light westerly breeze, unfolding a most lovely sky studded with bright stars, and adorned by the presence of the young moon, and the brilliant flickering streamers of a fine aurora in the north. The ice too opened, and we sailed gently through calm water, among numberless fairy islets of glittering ice and wreaths of snow, with shining pinnacles and fantastic forms floating calmly about us, and-
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.
Everything was still, and even the sailors hushed their noisy clamour, insensibly silenced by the influence of this most lovely scene. Even the hoarse voice of the master of the watch as he sung out, from the foretop, brief orders to the helmsman, was not out of harmony with the feelings of the time, while, sounding at intervals, it served but to make the silence of all nature around us more deep and solemn. For a long time Stuwitz and I stood silent in the bows of the vessel, entranced by the novelty and beauty of all around and above us. It seemed the realization of the poetic visions of early youth in its dreams of the fleeting and unearthly loveliness of fairy-land. Gradually, however, the aurora faded from the sky, the vessel passed from the open pools of water into a field of closely packed ice-pans; and the enchantment was dissolved by the cry of "Gaffs and pokers!" and the usual thumping, grinding, and shouting of our passage through close ice.
March 11th.-Light breeze from the SE, with fog and hoar frost. Thermometer at 10 AM 33°F. The vessel making but little way, the ice being closely packed. Two men came on board this morning from a vessel at no great distance, but which we could not see for the fog. It was singular, in such apparently utter solitude and desolation, to see two human beings making their appearance. After a chat with their friends on board the Topaz, and a glass of grog, they went off again into the fog to return to their vessel. The watch on deck last night heard the cry of a young seal. The weather remained the same all day, but in the afternoon the ice opened, and we got a fair- run of some distance to the north-ward.
March 14th.-Wind northeast, with fog and snow. Early in the morning the crew were out on the ice, and brought in 350 seals. The number hauled in yesterday was 1380, making the total number now on board upwards of 2000. After suffering the pelts to lie open on deck a few hours, in order to get cool, they are stowed away in the hold, being laid one over the other in pairs, each pair having the hair outwards. The hold is divided by stout partitions into several compartments or "pounds" to prevent too much motion among the seal-skins and keep each in its place. The ballast is heaved entirely out as the pelts are stowed away, and the cargo is trusted to ballast the vessel. In consequence of neglecting to divide the hold into pounds in one of his earlier voyages, Captain Furneaux told us he once lost his vessel. He was detained on his return, with 5000 seals on board, by strong contrary gales which kept him at sea till by the continual motion and friction his seals began to run into oil. The skins then dashed about from one side of the hold to the other, with every roll of the vessel, and he was obliged to run before the wind, which was then blowing from the northwest. The oil spread from the hold into the cabin and forecastle, floating over everything and forcing the crew to remain on the deck. They got up some bags of bread, and by putting a pump down through the oil into the water-casks they managed to get fresh water. After being in this state some days, himself and his crew were taken out of the vessel by a ship they luckily fell in with, and carried to Saint John, New Brunswick; but his own vessel, with her once valuable cargo, and almost all the property of both himself and his crew, were necessarily abandoned to the mercy of the winds and waves, and what became of her was never known. This was a good practical lesson as to the proper method of stowing a cargo of seals, and one not likely to be forgotten: in the present instance, therefore, the pounds were both numerous and strong. In the middle of the day the wind increased to a gale, with a heavy drift of snow, making it impossible to stir far from the vessel, and we shortly made a start and sailed with a close-reefed fore topsail through broken ice and pools of water. Suddenly we fell in with a number of seals, and in the hurry of the moment I followed several of the crew overboard to the ice, with my gun, and made for an old one I saw not far off. All the surface being quite white, I took it for granted we were fast in a great field of ice, and only just discovered, time enough to prevent my stepping into it, that the surface of the water was covered with snow which congealed as it fell, and that there were only a few pans of ice around the vessel, which was still under way. By this time the Captain and Stuwitz were shouting to me to come on board, and running to the bows of the vessel across the last pan of ice that touched her, I had only just time to pass up my gun to a man that stooped over for it, and swing into the bight of a rope, before we were in clear water, driving furiously along. My essays hitherto were thus eminently unsuccessful. The Captain now took in all sail, and we scudded under bare poles amid clouds of snow, till we stuck fast in a large field of ice. We were then securely harboured, the men turned in, fastened down the hatches, and we in the cabin ate, drank, smoked, and read the few books we had with us, making ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Our only drawback of any consequence was the smokiness of the stove, but I never was in a vessel yet in which the smoke did not come down the funnel of the stove at least as often as it went up it.
March 15th.-I was awakened last night by the vessel rocking, for the first time since we had entered the ice, and found that the field about us had opened into great bays of water. It was now blowing a furious gale, and we were sailing under the spencer through loose ice and open pools. The decks were as slippery as glass with frozen snow and blood; the thermometer being down at 17° at two PM. We still picked up a young seal or two in the morning, but in the afternoon were again fast among close ice, and there was nothing more to be done but to repeat the amusements and occupations of yesterday. Towards evening the wind moderated a little, but was still very cold.
March 16th.-Beautiful morning, with a light wind from the west. Sailing through thin ice and open spaces of water. There were many vessels in sight, and several icebergs, some of the latter of considerable size. At ten AM the thermometer was 27°. We did not get near any icebergs, but looking at them with the assistance of the telescope I could see nothing but ice and snow. A large one about three miles from us had apparently been half tilted over, there being a perfectly straight indented mark across it, which had evidently once been its water line, though now it crossed the mass diagonally at an angle of about 45° with the horizon. Above this water line the ice was rough and jagged, below it smooth, though not level, and evidently water-worn. Behind the iceberg appeared a large low mass that may have been broken off from it, and thus caused it to tilt over. The field ice appeared to get thinner as we proceeded northwards, many pans, apparently firm, being nothing but frozen snow, through which one could drive a gaff, and one or two of the men got a ducking in consequence. I went out in a punt, and at a distance of not more than twenty yards positively drove a ball into the throat of an old seal that rose to look at us; notwithstanding which, he dived and got away. We brought one young seal on board today, alive and unhurt, by my particular request. He lay very quiet on deck, opening and closing his curious nostrils (which, when expanded, were nearly round, but closed firmly into a narrow slit), and occasionally lifting his fine dark lustrous eyes as if with wonder at the strange scene around him. His fur being quite dry and clean was as white as wool-short, and close, and thick, composed of strong hair standing out perpendicularly everywhere, except on his face and his fippers, or paws. On being patted on the head he drew it in, making his face perpendicular to his body, knitted his brows, shut up his eyes and nostrils, and he then presented a very droll appearance, having a comical countenance in a circular bushwig. With his head extended, however, and his eyes open, he was really a very pretty creature, looking so warm, and round, and comfortable. When teased, although quite young, he was fierce, biting and scratching at everything about him; but on being patted and stroked he immediately became quiet. These animals might certainly be easily tamed if properly managed. The men and the dog, however, teased this one till he became exhausted and dying, and I passed my knife into his heart, to put a stop to it at once. In the afternoon two of the men went out on the ice with their sealing guns, and shot three bedlamers, or seals of one year old, and brought them on board, where Stuwitz measured, drew, and described them. The sealing-gun is an immense affair, as long as a duck-gun, but with a much wider bore, roughly made, and, in some instances, not over-sound. The men put in a great charge of powder and shot-frequently ten fingers' breadth, or even more the powder being coarse, and the shot larger than buck-shot, consisting, in fact, rather of small bullets than shot, being cast, and not dropped. It was as much as I could do to hold one of these guns straight out; and the men were frequently knocked down by its rebound, when they fired standing on slippery ice.
At twelve o'clock today we took an observation, for the first time, and found our latitude to be 50° 17'. What our longitude was we were obliged to guess-no chronometer could stand the jarring and thumping it would receive in so small a vessel among the ice; and as for keeping a dead reckoning, that was entirely out of the question. Working and winding our way among the ice wherever there seemed the best opening between the pans, changing our course every minute, the vessel brought with her head up in the wind by the pressure of a pan of ice at one minute, turned off by another right before it the next minute, sailing now rapidly through a pool of water, then stuck fast for half an hour in the ice, and, even when apparently stationary, drifting in an unknown direction, at an unknown rate, with the whole body of the ice the log is of course utterly useless. All we knew was that we were north or northeast of Newfoundland, in latitude 50° 17'. This is the parallel of the south coast of Devonshire, where the winters are so mild, and where a lump of ice out at sea would astonish the inhabitants not a little. What would these good people think if the English Channel, the Irish Sea, and the German Ocean were blocked up with icefloes, and if it were possible to cross from France to England, and thence to Ireland; to proceed northwards and pass over first to Scotland, and then to Norway, and afterwards coming southwards, to return again from France to England, and all on solid ice? Had the western coast of Europe the same climate as the eastern coast of America, this would be an occurrence within the limits of possibility, and certainly not a winter would pass without all the seas round England being blocked up with ice; our early crops would then perish; our woods would become stunted, and our oaks, ashes, and elms give way to pines and larches: mosses and lichens would spread over our cornfields and pastures, and England would become a desolate and barren country.
In the afternoon a St. John's schooner came alongside, with scarcely any seals on board, and followed us for the rest of the day, hoping to profit by our good fortune. Captain Furneaux was a noted man as a lucky seal-hunter; the luck, in fact, consisting in energy and perseverance, and never stopping or losing a minute till he did find them. In the evening the wind fell to a light air, and the sunset was beautiful. We were sailing quietly to the north, through thin, broken ice, in hopes of meeting with some of a thicker and firmer description, on which there was a greater probability of finding seals. The moon was bright overhead, with thin streaks of cloud in patches about the sky, dimly veiling the stars; and though it was cold, we stood long on deck watching the shadow of the sails as we passed successively from the white ice to the dark water.
March 17th.-A beautiful morning, quite calm and mild. In the afternoon a light air sprung up from the southeast, and it became rather foggy; the ice was very loose, and the pans, covered with snow, were very rotten and treacherous. The decks were now cleared up, and everything put snug and comfortable again. In some of the open pools of water today I observed a singular appearance. Spaces fifty or sixty yards across were covered with a thin film of clear ice, that seemed to be made up of round scales the size of one's hand, frozen together into larger flakes or scales about a yard in diameter: these frequently overlapped each other, and being very bright and shining, looked like the scaly side of a gigantic fish. We gathered some snow from the surface of a pan today that seemed quite salt, the spray of the sea having probably been blown over it.
March l9th.-Foggy, and nearly clam: a few punts were out in the morning, but it was too thick to go far, and there were but few seals near us. There were 1080 brought in yesterday, and about 100 this morning, making about 3300 now on board altogether. We sailed about an open lake of water all day, and at night went into the ice. A heavy swell was now rolling in from the east, raising all the ice into long sweeping undulations of considerable height and breadth: there was not, however, much drifting or clashing of the ice-pans together, but each piece rose and fell perpendicularly on the waves that successively travelled beneath it, without other apparent motion. The thermometer for the last few days has generally risen to 37° or 40° in the course of the day.
March 20th.-Very thick and foggy, with light wind from the northeast: two or three vessels near us, but no seals. We breakfasted this morning on the hearts and kidneys of young seals fried:-they were very good, being just like pig's fry, but rather more tender and delicate. At ten o'clock we pushed into the ice on a northwest course; presently we heard some young seals "bawling" ahead, and in a short time we got among them, and most of crew went after them. The captain shot an old hooded seal on the ice, and Stuwitz and I went to cut him up and examine him. He was upwards of six feet long, and four or five in circumference in the thickest part of his body: on his nose and forehead was a great pulpy mass, like a black bag full of fat, overhanging above his eyes. This is the hood which, when angry or excited, can be blown out to a considerable size. He had a cold, malignant looking eye, and his head altogether looked fierce and outré, something like a hippopotamus or rhinoceros. Stuwitz occupied about an hour in measuring and drawing him, after which we sculped him and cut him up. The flesh was very black, and strong, and muscular, the fibres of the muscles still quivering when we cut into them, although he had been dead so long. His bones, on the contrary, were very thin and slender for so bulky an animal. We were another hour in dissecting him, up to our elbows in black blood; and as it froze on our hands and arms we were obliged occasionally to plunge them into his body to thaw and warm them.
The fat was between two and three inches thick; the skin, when it got dry, was a very beautiful one, being a dark silver-grey, elegantly spotted with black: this is the natural colour of all the seal skins, although when brought home the grey is changed to a dirty yellow, being soaked in the hold of the vessel with rancid fat. The fields of ice this morning were thrown into such strong undulations by the swell, that at a distance of fifty or sixty yards a man seemed to be alternately on the top of a sloping Banks and in a hollow, by which half his person was hidden from sight. When walking and looking around, it gave a feeling of insecurity and giddiness, but when standing or kneeling, and looking down, not the smallest degree of motion was perceptible. I tried this two or three times, and after looking steadily down for a short time, was always obliged to raise my eyes to convince myself that the swell still continued. In the afternoon the fog thickened while some of our men were out a long way after seals; the captain and I accordingly amused ourselves with firing a nine-pound carronade that was in the bows of the vessel once or twice every half hour as a signal. On one of these occasions, not having raised the breech enough, we blew away the part which was raised over the muzzle of the gun, and a piece of it flew backwards over my head, with which it very nearly came in contact. Before dark two men came alongside, looking for eight men missing from their vessel, and shortly afterwards two more from another vessel, who had lost their way in the fog. Gradually all our crew found their way back, and the four strangers slept on board of us. Throughout the night we could hear guns and signals of various kinds from different vessels around us whose men were missing. Beating the outside of the bulwarks with a rope makes a noise that is heard a long way; clapping two boards together, or striking a frying-pan with a poker, is also a good signal, the sound being more distinct, and the quarter it proceeds from more easily distinguished than the heavy boom of a gun through the fog.
March 21st.-Thick, foggy, and calm. The four men went off into the fog in search of their respective vessels. We scarcely stirred all day, and frequently heard guns and signals for lost men, some of whom must have been out on the ice all night. This thick fog is one of the principal causes of danger in a sealing voyage, men having often been lost, being drifted out to sea on the ice, separated perhaps from their vessels by channels suddenly forming, or wandering quite away in the fog, and perishing miserably of cold and hunger on the surface of a frozen sea. We picked up a few young seals, and as one of them was shedding his white coat, we eased him entirely of it, and disclosed his second coat, a beautifully spotted skin of short smooth hair-grey and black. The weather felt quite warm, the thermometer being above 40° and we took off the cabin skylight. Ever since we left St. John's we have had flies in the cabin, but now the skylight was full of them, buzzing about till they were quite a nuisance: some were even flying about the deck this morning. After dark we heard a great noise, as of breakers ahead, which we supposed was an iceberg, with the sea beating against it, and therefore, for fear of accidents, we moored the vessel fast to a large thick pan of ice alongside, on which were several upright blocks and masses.
March 22nd.-A beautiful morning, with the wind at north north-west, quite clear. There were many vessels in sight, ten or a dozen of which had flags flying, signals that they had lost men. One small schooner passed close by us with six men short, whom she could not hear of, but hoped they were on board some vessel or other. We discovered the noise we heard last night to proceed from what is called a "rolling" pan. This was a small iceberg of very irregular shape, about sixty yard across, and its average height above the water about twenty-five feet. It drifted down upon us by the aid of an under current, as there was but little wind, and obliged us to cast off our tow-line and make sail. It was full of hollows at the top and sides, having a pinnacle at one end thirty-five feet high, with a perpendicular wall or cliff, and at the other a round hummock; it consisted of white compact and opaque ice, enclosing at one place a large wedge-shaped mass of blue transparent ice. But what made it most remarkable was its swinging to and fro in the water, dipping first on one side and then the other into the sea, and heaving up tons of water as it rose, that, surging into its hollows, fell back down several channels into the sea, producing a noise and motion exactly like that of breakers. There was but little swell, but what there was sufficed, I suppose, to keep up the rolling, which had, no doubt, been communicated to it where the swell was greater. It was a singular thing to see this great lump of ice thus navigating on a voyage of its own, and not less interesting to speculate on its origin and history. It had probably been once much larger, and was now consummating its own destruction, not only by journeying to the warmer regions of the south, but by its swinging motion, for the water sometimes washed right across its middle, where it was low, and was thus actually sawing it in two: its sides too were scratched and scored in all directions, probably from knocking and rubbing against other pieces of ice: it was in some parts covered with snow, part of which struck me as being rather discoloured and dirty, but it had no signs of gravel or pebbles. The discoloration might have been caused by the presence of seals, as we had frequently seen large patches of ice dirty and discoloured, in spots where the seals had brought forth their young, which are called by the men "whelping-grounds." Sailed slowly during the day, and in the evening sent out a punt or two, which, just before dark, brought in an old hooded seal, two old harp seals, and several young ones.
There was a beautiful aurora this evening exhibiting the usual arch or undulating band of glancing rays, from the northeast to the northwest, passing over both the Bears. The principal mass of light was in the northeast, and it seemed to travel slowly towards the northwest. To me the rays seemed to glance upwards perpendicularly from the earth, and the arched appearance, as well as the radiation from a supposed centre, was probably due to perspective and to the different angles under which the various parts met the eye of the spectator. The light was fainter in the centre, and more full towards each extremity of the arch; and the arch, instead of being perpendicular to the earth's surface, like the rainbow, appeared horizontal, or rather as if it were part of a circle parallel to a plane which formed a tangent to a point on the surface of the earth some distance to the north of us. From such a flat, circular, and sinuous band if rays be supposed to glance perpendicularly upwards, while an undulating motion travels along the band itself, the form of the phenomenon will be described as it appeared to me. I do not feel myself competent even to speculate on the cause of the phenomenon; but it has since struck me that if a tangent plane were to pass through the magnetic pole, and at some distance above this, but parallel to it, there were a wavy or sinuous circular band of light, having a point above the magnetic pole for its centre, and a radius of some ten or twenty degrees of latitude or equatorial longitude, with rays glancing upwards from the band parallel to the magnetic axis of the earth, and an undulating motion communicated to the whole, it would produce the appearance most commonly observed by me in the aurora seen in Newfoundland. This appearance, however, was by no means constant, a diffused yellow light being sometimes alone observable.
March 23rd.-A furious north and northwest wind with driving snow-storms. Sailed under a close-reefed fore-topsail through some open pools of water, and then, being brought up in a compact field of ice, furled all sail and moored to a large pan, where there were some seals about us. The men picked up two or three, but could not go far because of the blinding snowdrift. The thermometer was down at 18° in the middle of the day. All hands snug under hatches the whole of the afternoon.
March 24th.-Fine morning, clear, but cold, with a light wind from the west-northwest. There were six or eight vessels in sight. The ice was rather loose and interspersed with lolly, and the men were bringing in a few seals, but had to go a long way for them. Among them was the pelt of a female hood seal and two young hoods, one of which had not long been whelped. As we were at dinner today we heard an outcry on deck, and on running forward found a fine young shark lying on a pan of ice alongside the vessel. A pile of seal-pelts had been gradually collected on the pan, which touched the bows of the vessel, and two men were standing on it, helping to hoist them on board, when the shark, attracted, no doubt, by the pleasant savour, poked his nose up over the side of the pan, and the men immediately hooked him with their gaffs, and dragged him on to the pan without his making any great resistance. He was about ten feet long, and he lay quietly enough, giving merely an occasional lash with his tail, and suffered us to roll him over and haul him about with our gaffs. Stuwitz, of course, did not lose the opportunity of sketching his form, taking his dimensions, and cutting him up. In his stomach we found the hinder part of a young seal, part of a flatfish, and a small fish like a gurnet. His liver was six feet long, and occupied the greater part of his inside. Both his eyes were dull and opaque, and very much sunk in his head: they were apparently diseased, and each had a parasitical animal adhering to it (a hernæopod), about an inch and a half long, having two arms springing from its body, that joined to form a small cup-shaped sucker by which they were attached. The structure of the shark's nose was very curious and delicate, having internally a series of rows of filaments on a common base, something like the gill of a fish. The five holes in his neck to admit water to his gills, his elastic jaws containing a fringe of teeth, and his extensive gullet armed with small hooked teeth pointing inwards, were among his best-known characteristics. His flesh was beautifully white, and the arrangement of its flakes and fibres very curious and beautiful. We had some of it dressed for tea, and found it not badly tasted, but rather tough and dry, something like an old halibut. He scarcely moved while being cut up, but seemed almost as much alive after having his inside cleaned out and being slit open from head to tail, as he was before. About an hour and a half afterwards, on cutting down through the head into the brain and spinal marrow, he gave one or two vigorous lashes with his tail, after which there was no more motion. After taking what parts of it Stuwitz wished to preserve, we left his carcass on the ice, a prey to the seals, if they chose to accept of it. Of these latter we had brought on board today 356, making now 4186 as our total number on board.
March 25th.-Most beautiful morning, with a light breeze from the southwest. We lay nearly all day tightly jammed among strong ice, of which the whole surface, being covered with newly-fallen snow, was most dazzling under the bright sun. Several vessels about us, one of which, a schooner, was as full as she could hold, and was accordingly homeward bound. A number of icebergs were in sight on all sides of us, none of them very near, and none of them in any way remarkable, except for mere peculiarities of shape or size. One, however, had a dark band, apparently of blue transparent ice, traversing its upper portion, in a nearly horizontal direction. I certainly do not understand in what way icebergs are formed, or how so a large body of compact solid ice can accumulate. Whenever this blue ice occurs in them, I take it to have resulted from a pool of fresh water having formed, either from rain or melted snow, on the surface of the iceberg, and being subsequently frozen, and then buried under other accumulations of white opaque ice. I question very much whether any mass of transparent ice is ever formed in seawater; and I am also inclined to believe that nearly all sea-ice is the result of snow saturated with cold salt water and then frozen, rather than the actual congelation of the water of the sea. About noon the sky clouded over, and we had a heavy snowstorm, with a gale from the northeast.
March 26th.-Fine, but cloudy; thermometer at ten AM 32°. Made sail to the northeast slowly through thick ice. In the afternoon there was a silver thaw, that is, rain freezing as it falls, and covering everything with a coating of clear ice. Our masts, yards, and rigging seemed to be cased in glass. A young hood seal being brought on board, Stuwitz drew, and measured him, but as it got dark, we put his carcass into a punt to dissect in the morning.
March 27th.-A gale from the southwest. On coming on deck this morning we could not find our seal, and on inquiry discovered that the middle watch had eaten him during the night. The constant employment of the men on deck, when they had nothing else to do, was boiling, frying, or roasting pieces of seal flesh and eating them. Immediately after a dinner or breakfast down below, they would come on deck and set to work at the seal by way of dessert. Their constant food both at sea or on shore being fish or salt pork, fresh meat is at all times a luxury to them, even though it be that of a seal. It is amusing enough, however, that more than one half of the men going to the ice are Irishmen, and strict Roman Catholics, who would rather undergo any privation than eat meat on their fast-days, which in Newfoundland are Fridays and Saturdays. I had always found during the previous summer that my men, if there were no fish to be had, would confine themselves to bread and butter and tea on those days, even while undergoing the hardest labour. The good fathers of the church, however, either in pure ignorance of natural history, or by a little pious fraud, willing to indulge their flock during the cold and hardships of a sealing voyage, have come to a unanimous determination that seals are fish! I by no means wish to disturb the consciences of any of the men in so very harmless a matter, and hope that seals may still be reckoned to be fish; but I am afraid I rather staggered one man by asking him if he ever heard of any fish that had hot blood, and that suckled their young. In the mean time we determined to try what sort of food a young seal was, and ordered one to be cooked for dinner. He was towed through the water the greater part of the morning, then parboiled, and afterwards cut up and fried with onions. In this way it really was not bad: the flesh was rather dark and strong, but by no means so disagreeable as that of some seabirds I have eaten.
There was a fine aurora at night, consisting of a bright undulating band just visible above the horizon, with glancing rays shooting upward.
March 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st.-Nothing remarkable happened during these four days. There was moderate weather the whole time, and one day we took off the skylight to let in some fresh air and let out the flies which annoyed us. We sailed about in various directions among loose ice, picking up a hooded seal or two now and then. Captain Furneaux says he never knew the field-ice so open and thin in this latitude (about 50°) as it was this year. There were very many icebergs about, some of them of large size, but in none could I see any signs of pebbles or boulders.
I saw one day four men attack a party consisting of a male and female hooded seal and their young one; they killed the female and the young one, and shot the male or dog-hood in the water, and hauled him on to a pan: when there, however, he recovered strength, twisted the gaffs out of the men's hands, and, in spite of what all four could do, he got away, and scuffled into the water, where he dived and disappeared.
The following is a summary of what I learned of the seals in Newfoundland:-
There are four species known on the coast.
1. The bay seal, as its name denotes, is confined to the bays and inlets, living on the coast all the year round, and frequenting the mouths of the rivers and harbours. It is the smallest of the four, and prettily marked with irregular spots of a small size. From what I heard, I am led to suspect that it breeds in the autumn or fall of the year. It is never found on the ice among the seals we had been pursuing.
2. The harp seal is so named from the old male animal having, in addition to a number of spots, a broad curved line of connected blotches proceeding from each shoulder and meeting on the back above the tail, forming a figure something like an ancient harp or lyre. The female has not this harp, neither has the male till after his second year. The young when born are covered with the white fur already described-they are then called "whitecoats:" at about five or six weeks old they shed this white coat, and a smooth spotted skin appears-they are then called young harps. When twelve months old the males are still scarcely to be distinguished from the females, and during that season they are called "bedlamers." The next season the male has assumed his harp. The harp seals, as will have been gathered from what precedes, herd together, at least during the breeding season, and probably at other times. They are not seen on the coast of Newfoundland at other times, and probably come from the north to the ice-fields on the northern shores of the island for the purpose of bringing forth their young. The mothers leave their young on the ice, and fish about the neighbourhood for their own subsistence, returning occasionally to give suck. We did not absolutely see one suckling her young one, but we found the milk in the mouths and stomachs of one or two young ones that were brought on board, and it was of a thick creamy consistency and of a yellowish white colour. Meanwhile the males are congregated together in the open pools of water, sporting about. The young ones increase in size very rapidly from their birth, and are fattest at about three weeks old, at which time they are almost half the bulk of the old ones. From that time the fat diminishes slightly, although the bulk of the internal body increases.
3. The hooded seals are larger than the harps. Their skin is of a lighter grey colour, with many dark irregularly shaped spots and blotches of considerable size. The male, called a dog-hood, is distinguished from the female by the singular hood or bag of soft flesh on his nose. When attacked or alarmed, they inflate this hood so as to cover the face and eyes, and it resists seal-shot. It is impossible to kill a dog-hood, even with a sealing-gun, when he has either his head or his tail turned towards you; and the only way is by shoot-ing him on the side of the head, and a little behind it, so as to strike him in the neck and the base of the skull. The young of this species are not provided with the thick woolly coat of the young harp seals, or if they are it is shed very shortly after birth. They have whitish bellies and dark grey backs, which when wet have a bluish tinge, whence they are called "blue-backs." Those which were brought on board alive seemed much tamer and more gentle than the whitecoats, and when teased did not offer to scratch and bite so much as the others. Their fat is not so thick, and they are consequently of inferior value. The hooded seals do not form such large herds as the harps, and the male and female seem to keep more together, both being commonly seen near the young one. The hooded seals generally bring forth their young two or three weeks later than the harps, and they always occupy different districts, the hoods being generally found farthest to the north. In the stomach of the old hooded seal which we opened we found nothing but portions of squids, and two or three undigested beaks of large cuttlefish.
4. The "square fipper" is described as being much larger than the hooded seal. It is, however, very rare; and we did not see one or hear of one being seen this season.
The walrus, or sea-horse, is occasionally met with and killed by the seal-hunters, and not infrequently a white bear or two. We only heard of one of the latter being seen this year, and it was fought some time by the men with their gaffs, dodging it from pan to pan, till at last one or two, coming up with their guns, shot him. We did not hear of this, however, till after our return to St. John's. White and other foxes are also occasionally found on the ice.
There is no certain rule to be adhered to in searching for the herds of seals, the great secret of success being constant activity and pushing about through the ice till they are met with, making for the strongest and largest fields of ice, and watching the set of the currents, the winds, and other circumstances which are likely to lead to them.
April 1st.-Thick and foggy, wind southwest; sailing to the southeast through bays of water. Saw a punt's crew of a schooner near us kill a family of hooded seals, consisting of the male, female, and young one. Distinctly observed the male blow up his hood as the men approached. The hooded seals are more fearless, and show more fight when attacked, than the harps: they will, however, always get away if they can. The men say that if they can once kill the female, they are sure of the rest, as the young one does not stir, and the dog will not go far from the spot, but keeps continually popping his head up in the holes and pools about, growling and whining after his mate.
It was quite a pleasure to have a little clear sailing this morning, after being so long stuck fast in the ice. The thermometer at nine, AM, showed 35°, and in the middle of the day the fog cleared off, and we had beautiful weather. We moored the vessel to a large pan of ice, and filled all our water-casks from a pool of clear water in its hollows, taking the opportunity also of getting a good wash ourselves, a luxury we could not very often enjoy. There were several vessels about us, two of which had not seen a single whitecoat this season, so capriciously scattered are the herds of seals. There was a very singular island of ice a few miles to the south of us. It rose to a height of about one hundred feet, and resembled the worn and ruined cone of a volcano. At about half its height was a platform sloping to the north, and round three of its sides a thin wall of ice rose up sloping inwards, and was pierced towards the south by a great arch somewhat resembling a Gothic window. The sloping platform was strewed with blocks of ice, fragments, probably, of its surrounding walls. As it was in the direction in which we intended or expected to proceed, we hoped to get a nearer view of it. The crew amused themselves this afternoon with jumping-matches on the snow, and dancing reels on the ice, to which I added darting at a mark with the gaffs, till the captain put a stop to that part of it by begging us not to spoil any more of his gaffs. By an amplitude observed at sunset this evening with my prismatic compass, I found the variation to be as nearly 38° as possible. The sunset was clear and beautiful, lighting up the icebergs with hues of liquid gold and rose colour; and at night the aurora was very fine, having, in addition to the appearance I have already described, a diffused yellow light over the whole heavens, except the south. On looking at the zenith there appeared to be a slight radiation from, or rather an apparent convergence to it, produced by perspective.
April 2nd.-A most lovely morning, with a light breeze from the west. Unmoored and made sail slowly through the ice to the south, with the temperature at 33°, at 10 AM. The arched iceberg is now southwest of us, and we can see its other side; the arch now appeared to be round below as well as above, and below it there floated a larger piece with a projecting pinnacle, that may probably have been detached from some part of the iceberg. It was still three miles from us, and the ice intersected with many small channels and lakes of water, rendering an attempt to reach it on foot highly dangerous, as the ice frequently separates and breaks up without warning given, and even a narrow channel might cut us off from the vessel. Taking a punt would be hazardous, for the opposite reason, as the ice might close in and oblige us to abandon it. The latter predicament was one in which a punt's crew and myself were nearly caught this afternoon. We had gone out where the ice was much divided into channels and pools of water, but it gradually closed in upon us, and we had much difficulty in forcing our way back to the vessel, being obliged to get out on opposite sides of the boat and force the pans asunder with our gaffs to make a passage for her. We brought a young harp on board alive, with its new coat on. Tying a line round one of its hinder fippers, we let it swim about near the vessel, which it did with great grace and agility, diving and rising again to the surface, and occasionally crawling out on a pan of ice. The beautiful clearness of the water enabled us to watch all its motions. It swam like a fish, principally by the motion of its body, closing and spreading out its hinder fippers into the exact form of the tail of a fish. Nestor jumped over into the water and swam up to it; but when the seal saw him approach it raised itself upright in the water, and when within reach attacked him tooth and nail, biting him severely in the lip, and making master Nestor turn tail immediately. Their heads and bodies are so round and smooth, that a dog cannot seize them anywhere except in the fippers.
April 3rd and 4th.-Continued our route to the southward slowly, the ice becoming more open and broken. Many icebergs were still in sight, and several vessels bound homeward like ourselves. In the afternoon of the 4th a thrush, very common in Newfoundland in the summer, and called there a blackbird, though it has a brown body and a red breast like a robin, flew several times about the vessel, hopping about and appearing lively and in good condition. The men said they had sometimes seen them in flocks on the ice in the beginning of April, and that two or three would often come on board and stay with them till they neared the land, picking up the crumbs and making themselves quite at home. This evening the lakes of water became wider, and as we sailed to the southward the swell gradually increased, till during the night I was awakened by the vessel rocking as if in the open sea.
April 5th.-A very heavy gale blowing from southwest. We hove the vessel to, under the lee of a thin skirt of ice, and I witnessed the sea in the grandest aspect I think I ever saw it. There was no ice to windward of us but this thin skirt about a mile broad, which was marked into small round pieces about a foot wide, forming a perfect mosaic pavement on a gigantic scale. This was sufficient to prevent the formation of the numberless flickering waves and crests of foam and spray into which the surface of the sea is lashed by a gale of wind, but it offered no impediment to the swell. The unbroken swell of the Atlantic ocean accordingly rolled in upon us in huge continuous ridges, heaving the pavement of ice on its mighty folds, and alternately lifting us on its broad domes and swallowing us in its deep hollows. The absence of all minor waves made the primary undulations to be felt in their true magnitude, and it was certainly a magnificent sight. Grand as was the sight, however, I would in a short time have gladly exchanged it for a station on the solid ice again, as both Stuwitz and I began to be seasick. More than half the crew, I found, followed our example, and for the next day or two barely enough of the watch were left on deck to manage the vessel.
April 6th.-When the wind moderated a little, we made sail to the south, and in a short time left all the ice behind us. At noon we were in lat. 60° 41', supposed longitude 50°, with the wind at west-southwest, apparently moderating.
April 7th to 11th.-One continued gale from southwest to northwest, with very heavy sea running; top-gallant yards sent down on deck, and with close-reefed fore and main-sails, &c. trying to make what head we could by beating up to the westward, but the wind constantly turning against us on both tacks. By soundings, we found ourselves to be on the Bankss, and supposed we were on the inner or western edge of them. We accordingly ran down as far as lat. 47°, and then tacked at 47° and 49° alternately, St. John's being in 47° 33', and the current supposed to set to the southward. Meanwhile, our seals began to run, the pumps brought up morning and evening a lot of thick white stuff like syllabub or soapsuds, the mixture of the seal-oil and salt bilgewater, being agitated in the pump. The ship accordingly was perceived to stink most awfully, and everything on board, including the bulkheads of the cabin, began to sweat with grease. Our clothes, also, became smooth and polished, especially where there was any pressure. Our fresh stores had long been exhausted, as also our wine and spirits, and we were now reduced to tea and the common rum, and had not much of that left. At last, in the afternoon of the 11th, the wind moderated and shifted into the north, the sea went down, and we got a fair run to the westward, and at sunset some of the men thought they could see Cape St. Francis in a Banks of fog to the northward, when it fell nearly calm.
April 12th.-About three o'clock this morning we were awakened by the happy intelligence that the lighthouse of Cape Spear was in sight, and coming on deck at daylight, we had the pleasure of seeing the bold and barren coast of Cape Spear and its neighbourhood about fifteen miles from us. The snow had all disappeared, except in the hollows and crevices of the cliffs. About eight o'clock a light breeze sprung up from the southwest, that just sufficed to carry us into the narrows before noon. We found the harbour full of vessels, and the first boat that boarded us brought us the intelligence that many vessels had come in with five, six, and even seven thousand seals on board; that some had sailed a fortnight ago on their second trip; and that seals were in consequence down as low as 15s the cwt. This lengthened the visages of our crew perceptibly, they having expected 18s a cwt. Stuwitz and I were, however, too busy in landing and getting away to our lodgings to trouble our selves about matters that did not concern us; and when there, we bathed first in hot water and then in eau de Cologne, ordering all our clothes to be hung out of doors, as we observed that the acquaintances whom we met as we passed through the streets studiously got on the windward side of us; and I have no doubt had we been turned out to be hunted, we should have left a "burning scent" behind us. Upon the whole, we were highly pleased with our expedition to the ice, which we could not have seen under more favourable circumstances. It was a very good season: one vessel in two trips brought in eleven thousand seals; and the total take this year must have been considerably upwards of five hundred thousand.
Page contributed by: Bill Crant, February 22nd, 2000
Page revised: Sept 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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