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Castaway on the Auckland Isles

Chapter III. — visit to figure-of-eight island.—dogs discovered.—royal tom.—bible readings

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Chapter III.
visit to figure-of-eight island.—dogs discovered.—royal tom.—bible readings.

Sunday, April 3, 1864.—Since last Sunday we have had tolerably fine weather, although we have had two days of rainy, misty weather, but mild withal. The wind has generally been very light from the westward, but at mid-night last night it shifted to S.W., and has blown a fresh breeze, with occasional showers of hail, throughout the day. The barometer has kept very high, and the thermometer has been about 50° until to-day, when it was 40°; at noon, barometer 29·92. On Monday last we went to Figure-of-Eight Island to get some young meat. We found the young seals as numerous as ever, if not more so; and this time they would not take to water at all. We were obliged to go right in amongst them, and they showed fight bravely. However, we got three young ones without killing any old ones. This was as many as we wanted, as we do not intend salting any more down, as we generally get one fine day in the week, when we can go and get more; and we can keep the meat a week very well now, for the flies are nearly all gone, and we keep it hanging at the top of a high tree, where they do not touch it.

While on the island we found a place where some party had camped at some time. There is no doubt but that they were killing seals, as we found a number of bricks, which no doubt had been used for their fry works. There had been two tents pitched, and, from the appearance of the ground where they had their fire, I should judge that they had remained about a week. The ground all over page 25these islands, except on the mountains, is of a turfy nature, and burns away wherever a fire is made; it is by this means that I judge from the place where the fire has been how long they have remained. How long it is since they were here I am unable to conjecture, but it is evident that ships visit this harbour sometimes; very probably it has been a whaler come in for wood or water, and finding the seals so numerous has taken a few. I am delighted to see even this sign of ships coming here: there is no doubt but we shall be released from our bondage sometime—perhaps sooner than we expect. May it please God for it to be so! We sailed all round one of the heads of this harbour, taking soundings all the way, and I find anchorage in 10 and 11 fathoms; but there is an excellent anchorage in 15 fathoms, between Figure-of-Eight Island and Round Point.

On Wednesday Mr. Raynal and I went to try fishing from the shore. We caught one very nice little cod, about three pounds weight, but the seals were round in swarms, which drove the fish away. We found a place about three miles from the house, where a fearful rush of water has come down from the mountains very recently, tearing away trees, earth, and rocks in its track to the harbour. We now found only a very small stream trickling down its bed, and if the terrific rush of water which has made this havoc has been caused by the thaw of the little snow which was on the hills a fortnight ago, I don't know what we may expect after the winter's snow. However, our house stands on pretty high ground; I think it will be out of all danger.

Sunday, April 10, 1864.—Another month is now nearly gone since we commenced this unfortunate voyage. The days are getting short, and a long, stormy, dreary winter is before us, without the slightest prospect of getting away; and how those dear ones whom I left manage to battle with the misery in which my ambition and folly has plunged them, I dare not think. Oh! if they were only here with me, how happy would be my condition compared with page 26what it is; for I am provided with a good shelter, and plenty to eat, and I should then think that they shared these blessings at least; but as it is, I know not to what extremities they may be reduced. My urgent prayer to Heaven is that I may be permitted to retain my health and reason through this fearful and distressing trial. During the past week we have had very little fine weather. Monday was the only fine day we have had; and on this day we went to Figure-of-Eight Island, and without much trouble got four young calves. The seals were as plentiful as ever on the island. We took two without getting amongst the old at all. The other two we were obliged to go in amongst a mob to get, but it was admirably done. We are getting quite expert at the business. Myself and one of the men ran in amongst them, and knocked down and dragged away the two young ones before the old ones had time to collect themselves sufficiently to offer any resistance.

On Tuesday morning it was quite calm. We went down to the harbour to look at the flag we put there some time ago. We found that the flag was entirely blown away; and the staff, which is a stout pole, and was well set into the ground, was nearly blown down; and the bottle, which was well tied to it, was also shaken down and lying on the ground. It requires something exceedingly well fastened in the ground to withstand the almost constant and terrific gales which blow here. I intend to put up a white board, in such a manner that it cannot blow down, on the first fine day. Before we arrived at Flagstaff Point it commenced to blow from the N.N.W. We had no time to lose, but returned as quickly as possible, and it was as much as we could do with three oars and me sculling to get across the bay, and under the lee of the weather shore; indeed several times, when we were losing ground, I thought we should have to run back and beach the boat somewhere. However, we managed to get across, pulled nearly to the head of the harbour, and, taking in ballast, sailed across to the house, where we arrived at 5 p.m. page 27drenched with rain and spray, and fainting with hunger; for we had had nothing to eat since breakfast.

Our first intention in going afloat was to try fishing; but being unsuccessful, and the morning so fine, I determined on going down to look at the flag. It is almost impossible to catch fish here with lines, as the seals are attracted by you, and come round in such numbers that they drive the fish away. In going down the harbour I took a number of soundings, and I have discovered another reef of rocks, which are dry at low water spring tides, and might prove very dangerous to anyone working up for the Middle Harbour, where the best anchorage is, as they lie about a cable's length from the southern point of its entrance; and a vessel would naturally bring that point, so as to weather in as far as possible on the first board. Their position is marked by kelp, which always should be avoided in this harbour. Barometer 29·50; thermometer, 47°.

Sunday, April 17, 1864.—The first and middle parts of the past week were very fine, with a high barometer. Wind generally from the west and W.N.W.; but yesterday and to-day it has been blowing a hard gale from the N.N.W.; and about four o'clock this evening it backed into north, and is now (8 p.m.) raining heavily, and blowing a hard gale. We have found another place where the seals assemble in great numbers; it is on this shore, about a mile and a half from the house. We do not intend to disturb them, unless on account of bad weather during the winter, when we cannot get to the island.

On Tuesday morning one of the men came running in, in a state of excitement, and told me that there were two dogs in the bush; he had left the other man in the bush to watch them till he came and told me. I immediately went to the place where the other man was left, but when I got there the dogs were gone. I saw their tracks, and was satisfied that they had seen dogs; and from the men's description of them I think they were sheep dogs. One day, page 28about three weeks after the wreck, we heard what we all supposed to be a dog barking; but as we had not heard or seen anything of dogs, we had almost forgotten all about it. But it is now evident that there are dogs on the island. At a short distance from where they were seen we found a dead seal calf, which they had evidently killed; so it appears that they subsist partly on seals' meat. We find that there is another small four-footed animal an inhabitant of this island also; this animal burrows, and undoubtedly only comes out at night. We have set snares, but have failed to catch them: their footmarks are similar to those of a pig. We catch small fish in the creek, which are delicious eating; they resemble the trout, but are very small. It would take four of the largest we have yet caught to weigh a pound, but they are very numerous. Barometer 29·50; thermometer 50°.

Sunday, April 22, 1864.—During the past week the weather has been exceedingly fine and mild; we have had some misty and frosty weather, but no disagreeable weather to speak of. The wind has been generally from N.N.W. On Wednesday and Thursday the wind was light from the S.E., which is something very unusual. On these two days we went down to Flagstaff Point, and erected a board 4 feet long and 2 feet 6 inches wide, painted white, with a large letter 'N' painted blue on it, to indicate that they must turn to north. I also secured a bottle to the board, to notify to anyone where we are, and giving them some instructions for working up the harbour. But should they not be able to send a boat on shore to get the bottle, the letter 'N' will indicate which way they are to turn; and when they are round the point we shall see them, and I shall get on board as soon as possible. The board is elevated about sixty feet from the mean level of the sea, and will be visible at some distance outside the Heads. While we were down there we caught a few very nice codfish, and I took a number of bearings which I had not been able to get before. I also sounded in all directions; my page 29line was only 35 fathoms long, and in many places I could not get bottom.

On Monday we went to Figure-of-Eight Island. We did not find the seals as numerous as previously; the day being very fine, and it being flood tide when we were there, no doubt they were fishing. We took a bull and cow seal, both yearlings, very large and fat. During the week the barometer has been very high; on Wednesday it was at 30·36, to-day it is 29·50; thermometer, 51°.

Sunday, May 1, 1864.—We now enter upon another month of imprisonment, which is commencing with bad weather. During the last three days it has been blowing a very heavy gale of wind, between S.W. and W.N.W. Sometimes there is a lull for about four hours, and then it comes on with great fury. The squalls are terrific, and accompanied with hail or rain. Sometimes the hills are quite white, but it soon disappears. The last month, on the whole, we had exceedingly fine weather—much finer than any we had at midsummer; but I suppose we may now expect winter to set in in earnest.

On Wednesday we went to the island for fresh meat. There was not a great number of seals on shore. It was flood tide, and I find that this is their fishing time. They are more numerous on shore during the ebb tide. They appear to assemble in greater numbers on the island than anywhere else, exactly at the head of the western arm, which is too far away for us to visit them there; but we also know many other places where they camp. Certain mobs collect and camp on their own particular ground, and also keep together in the water, but do not confine themselves to any particular part of the harbour. This I have ascertained from observations. There is one seal which we all know particularly well wherever we see him; he appears to be the king of the mob which belong to Figure-of-Eight Island. He is a very large dark coloured bull, of the tiger breed; we have named him Royal Tom. He is not at all afraid of us when we see him on shore; if page 30the seals around him run away, 'Tom' will not move, and takes very little notice of us. One day some of the men tried to drive 'Tom' into the water, but he would not move for some time; but after some trouble I suppose they got him to start. He went leisurely down to the water, and there he remained scratching himself; 'Tom' had a dry coat, and did not fancy wetting it just then, and into the water he would not go. He is too big and old for use, therefore we did not wish to kill him; indeed I do not allow any seals to be disturbed at all excepting those we intend to kill; but as I was not there myself I suppose the boys wanted to have a little fun to themselves, which would have cost them a reprimand had I heard of it in a direct manner. But they kept this to themselves; I only heard of it in an indirect manner, and so I let it pass. I have adopted a measure for keeping them in order and subjection, which I find to work admirably, and it also acts beneficially on my own mind. This is, teaching school in the evenings, and reading prayers and reading and expounding the scriptures on Sunday to the best of my ability. We have done this for some time now, and I am happy to say with much greater success than I at first expected. They are all getting particularly fond of reading, and hearing the Bible read. Some of them cannot read yet, but they are learning very fast, and I have not heard a profane word spoken for a long time. So much for moral suasion. I trust that the result will be beneficial to all parties. The barometer has been about 29·60 to 29·90 through the week; to-day it is 29·30, and rising. I hope we shall have finer weather to-morrow. Thermometer 40°.

Tuesday, May 10, 1864.—For some few days back I have not been very well. To-day I have had a very severe headache, but as it has now left me, and as I did not write on Sunday as usual, I shall do a little of it this evening; and, moreover, as this is the anniversary (32nd) of my birth, I have made it a point for some years back to page 31pledge my mother on this day in a bottle of good old port —but unfortunately it is out of my power to do so to-day; but I have not omitted to pledge her for all that. I have done so in a glass of beer of our own making, and what we use as a substitute for tea. It is not very good, but still it is preferable to cold water. It is made from the root which now forms a very material part of our food, and, as I have before stated, contains a considerable quantity of sugar. To make the beer we grate the root on a large grater (as we do for eating), boil it, let it ferment, and then put it in a cask and draw off as we use it. In using the root for food we fry it in oil (seal oil). It eats something like sawdust, but we are very thankful that we have it, otherwise we should have to live entirely on seals' meat, fowl, and fish, as our little stock of provisions which we had when we were wrecked has long since been exhausted. Nothing remains of it but a few crumbs of biscuit, which are regularly placed on the table, but only to look at—or 'point at,' as Paddy would say—for no one touches it.

We find that we can catch fish in great abundance, but we have only very recently found out the secret of catching them, which is done by fishing amongst the rocks with a short line tied to the end of a stick. The best time for catching them is the first quarter flood. One man can go out, and in an hour will return with sufficient fish to last us three days, and we eat them at every meal; and since we find that we can get them so easily, we eat very little seal meat; and the root, which we call sacchrie (from its saccharine property), eats better with fish than anything else.

Our parrots, which we have now had for some time, are getting on very well, and are beginning to talk; but, unfortunately, yesterday they all got out of the cage, and we have lost one of them—two remain.

Since I last wrote the weather has been very boisterous, and a good deal of snow has fallen. Yesterday everything was quite white, and it lay quite thick on the mountains; page 32but to-day the wind has been from the N.W., heavy gale with rain, and has taken it all away. We have not yet actually had frost, although the thermometer has been down to 33°, which is only one degree from it. The flies have not left ns yet; the blow-flies are not so bad, bat what is most extraordinary is that the mosquitoes are almost as troublesome as they were in the summer; they bite like fury, with the thermometer at 35°. We have not seen the dogs since I mentioned them before, but we frequently fall in with their tracks; they do not come near the house. On Saturday last the barometer was very low—28·46; to-day it is 28·80; thermometer 44°. I felt inclined to write some, but my scholars are troubling me, so I shall quit.