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Castaway on the Auckland Isles

Chapter I. — arrival at auckland island.—the shipwreck.—resources of the island

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Chapter I.
arrival at auckland island.—the shipwreck.—resources of the island.

Wednesday, December 30, 1863.—Commences with fresh breeze and dark cloudy weather. At 6 p.m. made the Auckland Group, bearing N.W. about 25 miles distant. Midnight, same weather; all sails set; water smooth under the lee of the island. Barom. 29·80, 2 a.m.: Tacked to S.W. From this time till 6 a.m. weather moderately clear, but wind very puffy and treacherous. Took in foretop-gallant sail; all the latter part, breeze unsteady; weather unsettled and threatening, and a very ugly sea getting up. Noon: Barom. 29·55, falling rapidly. Every appearance of N. gale and a very heavy confused sea running. South Cape, Auckland Islands, bearing W.N.W., distant about 20 miles. Lat. by observation, 51° 17′ S.; long, by bearing, 166° 35′ E., therm. 60°. I think that Mr. Raynal* is a little better since we left Campbell's Island. Winds: 2 p.m., W.S.W.; 4 p.m., W.; 8 p.m. W. by N.; 10 p.m., N.W. by W.; 4 a.m., W.N.W.; 8 a.m., W.

* Mr. Raynal was mate of the 'Grafton,' and had been seriously ill whilst the schooner lay at Campbell's Island.—Ed.

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Thursday, December 31, 1863.—Directly after the sun crossed the meridian it came on to blow a gale. Immediately reduced sail to close-reefed topsail, foresail, and foretop mainstaysail. A dangerous, confused sea running, and breaking on board in all directions, and a thick fog set in, with drizzling rain, which continued up till 6 p.m., when the sea began to run more regular, but still much confused, causing the vessel to labour and strain heavily, and make a little water. From this time till midnight experienced a hard gale, high sea, heavy rain, and thick fog. At 2 a.m. bore to westward, and at 4 a.m. the gale moderated. Made sail accordingly. At 8 a.m. all sail set, and at 9 a.m. made Auckland Island again, South Cape bearing N.N.E., distant about 25 miles. As the wind will not permit me to weather the island, I have determined to go under its lee, and if possible cast anchor in 'Sarah's Bosom.' Mr. Raynal is much better to-day. Noon: Moderate breeze and cloudy. Took sights at 9 a.m., South Cape bearing N.N.E. by compass, variation 2 points E. Lat. 51° 8′ S.; long. 166° 17′, and would put the South Cape in long. 166° 45′. This longitude does not exactly correspond with Bowditch, who gives two, which differ 20 miles, one being 166° 7′ and the other 166° 27′. Winds: 2 p.m., W.N.W.; 10 p.m., W.S.W.; 2 a.m., S.W.; 8 a.m., W.

Friday (New Year's Day), 1864.—At noon one point of the island bore N. by W. ½ W., and South Cape bore N.E. by N., distant about 8 miles. As we approach the island I find that it bears precisely the same appearance as Campbell's Island, and the mountains are about the same height. At 3 p.m. entered a harbour which I suppose is 'Sarah's Bosom.'* First and middle parts of the 24 hours, moderate breeze and moderately clear weather. The entrance of the harbour runs east and west. We beat in, but found no bottom at 20 fathoms, even close in to the rocks; kept under way all night.

* This is an error, it should be 'Carnley's Harbour.'—Ed.

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We saw great numbers of seals as we went up; at every tack we made they came off from the shore to look at us, and played round the ship like porpoises. 6 a.m.: Put the boat out, and sent her away to look for an anchorage, but found none. 8 a.m.: It came on to blow a strong breeze from N.W., which increased to a gale. Kept on heading up the harbour, to which we saw no end. At noon strong gale from N.W., with heavy rain; brought up on the N.E. side of the harbour, in 6 fathoms of water, close in shore, about 10 or 12 miles from the sea. We have had a very difficult job in heading up here, and are not yet in a good anchorage, but intend looking for one as soon as the weather moderates. We have got both anchors down, with 30 fathoms chain on each: this is all the good chain we have got. I consider her in a rather dangerous position, as there is hardly room for her to swing clear of the rocks should the wind come from the S.W. There is a swell on, and she strains very much at her anchors. The rain and gale continued till midnight, at which time this day ends, containing 36 hours. Wind, N.W. Barom., noon, 29·25; midnight, 29·3.

Saturday, January 2, 1864.—Very heavy gale throughout this day; first and middle parts almost constant rain, and during the latter heavy squalls. There is a considerable swell running, and the ship has been jerking and straining at her chains all day, and I expected them to part every moment. At 7 p.m., in a heavy squall, the starboard chain did part, about two fathoms outside the pipe, leaving about 38 fathoms on the anchor; and the other, or best bower, dragged a considerable distance, and then brought her up again, her stern in a quarter less two fathoms, about half a cable's length from the shore. She is lying almost parallel with the shore, and should the wind come from the S.W. she must most inevitably go into the rocks, and I have now made up my mind for the worst. I see no hope of her keeping clear. Barom., 28·90, and falling at 10 p.m. The wind is so that, should page 4I slip the cable with a spring, she would not clear the point, or I would slip and run out to sea. At every heave of the swell she is dragging the anchor home, and getting nearer the shore. From 10 p.m. till midnight the gale blew with the most terrific violence, and precisely at midnight the ship struck, but we hung on to the cable, in hopes that the wind would moderate as the tide rose, as it was then low water. Wind, from N.W. to W.N.W., and sometimes W.

Sunday, January 3, 1864.—After midnight the gale increased and blew with the most unimaginable violence, and we found that she was an unavoidable wreck; she lay broadside on to the beach, and the sea made a clean breach over her. At every surge we expected the masts to go over the side. We had veered out all the cable. We saw pieces of her keel coming up under her lee, and she made much water, but we kept at the pumps till we found she was filling fast, and the water was rushing into her like a boiling spring; this was at a quarter past 2 o'clock in the morning. We abandoned the pumps, and commenced getting the provisions on deck, which did not occupy much time, as our stock was very small. In a quarter of an hour she was full up to the top of the cabin table, and the sea was breaking heavily over her. The sea was so heavy on the beach that I considered it dangerous to attempt landing till daylight. We remained on deck, and at daylight commenced landing our provisions and clothes; we had much difficulty in landing; as it is a stone beach, the boat was in danger of breaking up. However, by 10 a.m. we had succeeded in landing the things most important without doing much damage to the boat. We brought the mainsail and gaff on shore and made a tent of it. We are obliged to lie on the ground, which is very wet. Raynal has walked about 100 yards to-day, from the beach to the tent. Wind, N.W. to W.N.W.

Sunday, January 10, 1864.—It is now a week since we landed here, and my time has been so much occupied in page 5hard work as to leave me no time to make even daily notes; but Mr. Raynal, who is improving fast, keeps the diary. Indeed, he is so much better that he talks of going to work to-morrow. We have had a very stormy week; it has been blowing a perfect hurricane from N. to S. all the time, until yesterday, which was a mild, cloudy day, without rain (the first since we came here); the breeze light, from south.

To-day is also a very fine day, with a moderate N.W. breeze. Last Monday we went on board the wreck, and got all the boards we could muster to make a floor in the tent, as we had all got severe colds from lying on the wet ground. We also unbent the sails, and sent down all the yards and topmasts, and are using them for building a house, as in all probability we shall have to remain here all next winter; and if we want to preserve life, we must have shelter. We have all worked very hard, and although it has been so wet we have succeeded in getting up the frame of the house. There is plenty of timber where we are camped, and also a beautiful creek of clear water; but the timber is not long or big enough to make a proper log-house, so we shall put them (the pieces of timber) up and down. The seals are very numerous here; they go roaring about the woods like wild cattle. Indeed, we expect they will come and storm the tent some night. We live chiefly on seal meat, as we have to be very frugal with our own little stock; we kill them at the door of the tent as we require them. If we had been fortunate enough to have kept the vessel afloat, I have no doubt but in two months or less we should have loaded her. Mine appears a hard fate; after getting to where I might have made up for what has been lost, I lose the means of doing so. The vessel leaves her bones here, and God only knows whether we are all to leave our bones here also. And what is to become of my poor unprovided-for family? It drives me mad to think of it. I can write no more.

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Sunday, January 17, 1864.—Another week of exile has passed, during which we have had tolerably fine weather; the first part was very fine indeed; on Thursday it rained all day. In the evening I went across the bay in the boat, and shot a dozen widgeons, of which we ate two, and the remainder, with four others which I shot this morning, we are reserving, as we have abundance of seal meat, which we find very good, particularly the females and young ones, but we cannot use the old bulls. We got one young one which had never been in the water; this was delicious — it was exactly like lamb; we have also got two carcases in salt; we have no occasion to go far after them, as they come close to the tent; indeed we were very much annoyed with them in the night, till one night we thought they would come into the tent, and to frighten them away I put a bullet into one of their tails, which had the desired effect. We have not been troubled with them since. The other day, when we were out with the boat, we saw great numbers of them, and one monster, the largest seal I have seen yet, much larger than the one we took the 35 gallons of oil from at Campbell's Island, made an attack on the boat. I slipped a ball into the gun on top of the shot, and as he put his head over the stern of the boat I put the whole charge into his mouth, which was wide open, and sent his head flying in all directions. But when you kill them in the water they sink like a stone; but I think they might be taken in the water with a harpoon.

We are progressing slowly with the house; it will be some time before it is ready for living in. I have been on board the wreck several times during the week, and I see that there are fish and crabs in the hold; but at the end of the incoming week I intend to lay her on her other bilge if possible (it will be spring tides), and ascertain what damage is done to her bottom; it is possible we may be able to make her carry us to New Zealand yet. Mr. Raynal is almost quite well; he has been working a little all this page 7week; he is our blacksmith, and makes nails for us. We are very badly off for tools; all we have got is a hammer, an axe, an adze, and a gimblet.

Tuesday, January 19, 1864.—Light easterly airs and cloudy weather during the last two days. This morning we went down the harbour in the boat and planted a flagstaff, with a large canvas flag on it, where it may be seen from the sea, and we tied a bottle to it, with a note inside it, directing anyone who may see it where to find us. We then went up to the western arm of the harbour to its head, which is about ten or eleven miles from the eastern entrance. Here we found a narrow passage out to sea, on the western side of the island. The passage out on the western side is about three quarters of a mile long, and a quarter cable's length wide. We did not think it prudent to enter this passage with the boat, as the tide was rushing rapidly through it, and there was a heavy swell running, and breaking on both sides. It runs nearly north and south, the south end opening to the sea—I should suppose not far from the South Cape.

At this place we saw hundreds of seals; both the shores and the water were literally swarming with them, both the tiger and black seal; but in general the tiger seals keep one side of the harbour, and the black seals, which are much the largest, the other side. But in one instance we saw a black and a tiger seal fighting. They were at it when we first saw them. We watched them about half an hour, and left them still hard at it; they fight as ferociously as dogs, and do not make the least noise, and with their large tusks they tear each other almost to pieces.

We also saw a sea-lion; he was very large, and he had been fighting, and his neck and back were lacerated in a most fearful manner; large pieces of hide and flesh were torn off, perhaps a foot long, and four or five inches wide. We were close to him; he sat and looked at us in the boat with all possible coolness and unconcern, and we did not molest him, as we have got two carcases salted down, and page 8one hanging up, and it is no use for us to kill them for their skins, as whoever takes us away would not feel inclined to humbug with our seal skins unless we gave them to them, which, of course, they would deserve.

But we have other work on our hands at present. We must get a place to live in, for the tent we are now living in is a beastly place. I expect we shall all get our death of cold before we get out of it yet; and the blow-flies blow our blankets and clothes, and make everything in the most disgusting state imaginable. A kind of mosquito is very troublesome in the day-time also, but fortunately they do not bite at night.

We have several kinds of birds here also, two kinds of which are songsters, and send forth beautiful notes; and there is the green parrot and robin-redbreast. They are all very tame. We could put out our hands and take hold of them, but we do not disturb them. The robins are very familiar with us; they come into the tent and chirp round us when we are at our meals, and are quite tame. While we were up the western arm of the harbour I shot a dozen of widgeon and young ducks; and we picked up a piece of a studding-sail boom on the beach, which had evidently not been lying there very long. We also found a seal dead on the beach, which I shot about a week ago close to where we were camped. The ball entered just before the shoulder, but he was quite close to the water, and got in and away before I could get at him to kill him. Where we found him is about eight or nine miles from here. I have taken a sketch of the western arm. The water is very deep, with bold, rocky shores, 10 fathoms deep, 50 yards from the shore, and we nowhere found bottom with a 20-fathom line at a hundred yards from the shore.

Sunday, January 24, 1864.—The weather has been tolerably fine since I last wrote, although it has been blowing a westerly gale ever since, and on Friday it rained heavily all day, with thunder and lightning in the evening. We have all been busy about the house, and I think we shall be page 9able to get into it towards the end of the incoming week. This morning I started to go on to the mountain which rises to the N.E. of us, to have a look round. I went alone, as my Norwegian friend, whom I had for a travelling companion on the other island, is sick; he was unable to work yesterday, and Mr. Raynal's legs are not strong enough for travelling yet. In going up I found seal tracks nearly to the top of the mountain, which I reckon is about four miles from the water; and about three miles up I saw a seal. I went about seven or eight miles and got a good view of the eastern part of the island, and I see that there is a sort of small harbour farther to the northward, but I don't suppose that there is any anchorage in it, as the mountains rise perpendicularly from it on both sides to the height of five hundred feet, and a considerable stream empties itself into it at the head; and it would not be fit for a vessel to go into if there was anchorage, as it is straight N.E. and S.W., and very much resembles the N.E. harbour at Campbell's Island, only that it is not so large. It is about three quarters of a mile long, and not more than a cable's length wide. All the mountains to the northward and eastward appear very precipitous, and there are only a few places where it would be possible to get either up or down them. They are covered with long, coarse grass, with here and there a patch of furze or stunted scrub, and there are numerous streams of water running out of them. In fact, the whole top of the mountain on which I stood was one mass of bog, and quite destitute of grass or herbage of any kind, but there is any quantity of granite rock. As I went up I found the travelling tolerably good, as I took the spur of the range, which is always the best; but, on coming back, I came down the face of the mountain, and encountered a number of swamps, through which I had considerable difficulty to get, until I arrived at the seal tracks, which do not go so far up here. They are not more than about a mile from the water, which is about the extent back of the page 10big bush. This 'big bush,' as we call it, is where the largest timber grows; it extends about a mile from the water all round the shores of this harbour, which, taking all the bays, is not less than sixty or seventy miles. This timber is all iron-bark and she-oak, but the bark of the timber is not like that of the Australian. This is as thin as brown paper, but the wood is precisely the same. It does not grow straight; you can scarcely get a straight piece out of it six feet long; it would make excellent timber for the frame of a ship, and there are any quantity of splendid knees. This is the iron-bark I am speaking of now. The oak is not much good for anything but burning.

On Tuesday last I had a very narrow escape from being shot. We were up the bush after a seal, which gave us a very exciting chase. I suppose we followed him two miles. They can run very fast in the bush. My gun had been loaded for two days, and the powder had got damp. After snapping three or four caps I got one barrel off, and the ball went into his neck, and out again between his shoulders. However, as a proof of how hard they are to kill, this did not stop him long enough for us to get up to him. I did not stop to load again (and it is impossible to load running in this bush), but pricked the powder up in the other barrel, and tried it again. The cap snapped, but the gun did not go off. I brought the barrel to my shoulder, with the butt to the ground, in order to load the other barrel again, when off she went, and the ball passed through the rim of my hat. They killed the seal before I got up to them again; but not however, till he got on to the beach. I thank God, who has protected me thus far, although in His wisdom He has chastised me severely lately, that He has again spared my life. The thermometer is about 48° or 49° at midday now.

Sunday, February 7, 1864.—It is now a fortnight since I last wrote, during which time we have had very bad weather; there has not been one entire fine day, excepting last Friday and to-day. To-day it is exceedingly fine; it page 11is blowing a light westerly breeze, with clear weather. Barometer at 29·30. On Monday last we had a most fearful S.S.W. gale. We had the boat afloat in the morning, and the gale came on so suddenly at noon that we could not attempt to haul her on to the beach, there was so much surf; so we left her moored to the wreck, but she got stove in there; for the sea struck her, and started all the ends of the planks on the port bow. We have not yet undertaken to repair her, as we have been too busy with the house. We kept at work at it, in spite of the bad weather, and we even worked at it on last Sunday. On Tuesday we came into it, and I am glad to say that we shall be much more comfortable. The house is 24 feet by 16 feet; the chimney is 8 feet by 5 feet, built of stone. We shall be able to have a roaring fire in it in the winter, if we are so unfortunate as to have to remain here till that time; and God help those at home, whom it almost drives me mad to think of. We have, as yet, had plenty to eat, but whether they have or not, God only knows.

For the last three weeks we have killed a cow an a calf seal each week. We only eat the cow and calf tiger seals; the black seal is not good, and the bulls are all very rank. We killed a cow and her calf this morning; we got milk from the cow after she was killed, which is very rich and good, much better even than goat's milk. We have not had time to go fishing in the boat yet, but I have no doubt but there is plenty of fine fish in the harbour, for we have had several dishes of small cod, which we catch amongst the kelp at low water. We also get plenty of mussels at low water springs.

Up to the present time the men have worked well, and conducted themselves in a very obedient and respectful manner towards me; but I find there is somewhat of a spirit of obstinacy and independence creeping in amongst them. It is true I no longer hold any command over them, but I share everything that has been saved from the wreck in common with them, and I have worked as hard page 12as any of them in trying to make them comfortable, and I think gratitude ought to prompt them to still continue willing and obedient. But you might as well look for the grace of God in a Highlandman's log-book as gratitude in a sailor; this is a well-known fact. They have not as yet objected to do anything that I have told them to do, but they did it in that manner which says plainly, Why don't you do it yourself? On Monday last the barometer was down to 28 inches, which is the lowest I have ever seen it. Thermometer stands at about 48° to 50°.

Sunday, February 14, 1864.—During the first part of the past week we had very heavy and almost constant rain; wind moderate, and generally from between W. and N.W. On Thursday morning we had a light air from the eastward, which is the first easterly wind we have had since we came here. Since Wednesday the weather has been very fine, with moderate westerly winds, but still not a day has passed without showers, more or less. This is a dreadful place for rain; but still we appear to have got to a place where it falls least. There is one place where it scarcely ever ceases raining; this is caused by the form of the land in that particular place (which we have named Rainy Corner), which is backed by a very high mountain, which bursts the low clouds as they pass over it. I have been working at the boat, and have got her in first-rate order—much better than when we got her. The men have been jobbing about the house, and cutting long grass to thatch the walls with outside.

Since we came into the house we have arranged that one man shall cook for a week, and that they will take it in turns; and as Mr. Raynal wished to take his turn with the rest, I did not object to his doing so. He was cook last week (they change on Saturday nights), and an excellent cook he is; he has set the others a good example for cleanliness and good cooking, and I hope they will follow it. He very frequently gave us four courses at a meal. (Anyone might wonder where we got anything to make page 13four courses off, but we are like the shell-fish, we get the most at spring tides). One would be stewed or roasted seal, fried liver, fish and mussels. We got a young seal on Friday, but we have not had a large one since last Sunday, which we cut up and salted like bacon. It is now hanging up, and I think this will be the best way of keeping the meat. We have tried several ways to preserve the skins without salting, so as to make clothes of them, but we have not succeeded yet. We cannot get them dried without something on them, as the flies destroy them, and there is no bark that will tan. We have not had any seals about the tent or house since I shot the fellow in the stern. Since noon it has come on to blow stiff, with squalls from W.N.W. Barometer 29·30; thermometer ranging from 48° to 52°. Went out with the gun this morning, and got a few widgeons.