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Castaway on the Auckland Isles

Chapter V. — the aurora australis.—our daily fare.—heavy snow-fall.—failure to repair the schooner

page 49

Chapter V.
the aurora australis.—our daily fare.—heavy snow-fall.—failure to repair the schooner.

Sunday, July 31, 1864.—It is seven months to-day since I entered the harbour, and during the past week we have had more easterly winds than during the whole of the previous time. I shall note down my slate notes whilst these easterly winds are blowing; as, given in full, they will better serve the purpose of a reference. On Sunday last, July 24, at 3 p.m., the breeze coming from north-east increased to a strong gale, which continued 36 hours, with drizzling rain and thick fog (black north-easter), barometer steadily falling. Monday, 25th—8 p.m., 29·14. Tuesday, 26th—3a.m., the north-east wind died away, calm until noon, latter part light breeze from west north-west, drizzling rain and thick fog; barometer, 8 a.m., 29, 8 p.m., 29·12. Midnight, calm. Wednesday, 27th—Until 3 p.m., fresh south-east breeze and fog; at that time the wind became fitful and gusty, hauled to the eastward and to the north-east, steadily increasing to a brisk gale, with drizzling rain and thick fog; barometer rising rapidly after 3 p.m.; 8 a.m. 29·12, 3 p.m. 29·15, 9 p.m. 29·28. Thermometer in open air at noon, 46°. Thursday, 28th—The north-east breeze continued until 3 a.m., fog and drizzling rain, and then became puffy, and hauled to S.S.E., blowing a strong breeze until 3 p.m. Latter part, moderate breeze from the same point. Detached opening clouds, and occasional slight falls of snow, with a clear atmosphere, and rapid rising barometer through the day; 8 a.m., barometer 28·28, 8 p.m. 29·76; thermometer at noon 35°. Friday, page 5029th—Light airs from the S.S.W., and fine clear weather throughout these twenty hours. Frost in the evening.

This evening we saw the most vivid and beautifully brilliant Aurora Australis that I have ever witnessed; indeed it was as bright as ever I remember seeing the Aurora Borealis. We frequently see these southern lights, but only showing a pale light; whereas on this occasion they shot up from the horizon to the zenith in streamers of magnificently varied shades of light. Barometer standing at 30·50; thermometer, 30°. Saturday and to-day light westerly airs and foggy weather; barometer, 30·10; thermometer, 38°. On Friday I went up to the Giant's Tomb. I was alone, and started early in the morning, and did not get home until dark. I came back by the head of the bay, which made it a long and difficult journey. I took nothing to eat with me, as I had no intention of being away so long; but I kept myself from feeling hungry by eating a quantity of roots and drinking water, which, thank God, is very plentiful, and acceptable in the absence of anything better. The ground was frozen, and the travelling up and on the top was very good; there was snow on the top, but in returning I had a most horrible road. The weather was particularly clear.

8 p.m.—About four o'clock I had to drop my pen in a hurry, and go in the boat to get a seal that one of the men had killed about three miles from the house. We have just finished supper, so I shall pick up the thread of my yarn. I had a much clearer and better view than I had obtained on my last visit, as on that occasion, although the weather was very fine, there was a slight deceptive haze in the atmosphere, which I found deceived me a little: for I find that there are several small islands at the north end of the group. They are small and low, and to attempt a passage through them with anything but a boat would be attended with great risk, as the channels appear to be full of rocks, and the islands surrounded by sunken reefs and banks, some of which are dry at high water, and on page 51which the sea breaks heavily. These dangers are visible only from where I stood, amongst the islands, and on the east side of them, and are not so far from the land as I have before described them. Still, the north end of the group should be approached with great caution. I am now of opinion that there is a bay, or perhaps a harbour, on the west coast, opposite the small islets which I mentioned in my note of 20th June. I intend to go farther the first time the weather permits, and determine this matter, unless we should be so fortunate as to be picked up before such opportunity presents itself.

I think I have never described our precise mode of dragging out this miserable existence, for I cannot call it living. Breakfast—Seal stewed down to soup, fried roots, boiled seal, or roast do., with water. Dinner—Ditto ditto. Supper—Ditto ditto. This repeated 21 times per week. Mussels or fish are now quite a rarity; we have not been able to get either for some time. The man who killed the seal to-day had been fishing nearly all day, and had caught one small fish. The men have stood it bravely thus far, but it grieves me unspeakably to hear them wishing for things which they cannot get. I heard one just now wishing he had but a bucket of potato-peelings!

Sunday, August 7, 1864.—During the whole of last week the weather has been very bad: it has been blowing a very heavy gale from between west and north-west, with either hail, rain, or snow continually falling. From noon yesterday till three o'clock this morning the gale was at its height; it blew a hurricane, and was the heaviest I have ever seen while on shore. Our house is elevated about 30 feet above the mean tide level, and is about 50 yards from the water; and during the height of the hurricane the spray was frequently dashed against it in heavy showers. Had it not been well built and secured it would inevitably have been blown down, and we should have been house-wrecked as well as shipwrecked. It is exposed to the full fury of westerly gales, although it is well sheltered from page 52every other quarter; bat after standing this severe gale it will stand anything. I have determined on trying to get the schooner higher on the beach, so as to look at her bottom. It may be that it is not impossible to make something of her yet: she is evidently very strongly built, for she still holds together in spite of all the gales which have blown since she was stranded, with the exception of a portion of the decks, which came up some time ago. Had we any tools I should have made an attempt to do something with her as soon as we had got ourselves sheltered for the winter, and found it not so severe as I had anticipated.

As the spring is setting in, and Mr. Raynal thinks he can make tools, I have determined to take her up, if possible, and see what can be done. At the commencement of the past week we had spring tides, which is the only time we can do anything. On Monday and Tuesday we employed ourselves at tide-time in clearing away the rocks and boulders off the beach up above where she now lies, and where she must come up, if she comes up at all, which I consider as very doubtful; but rather than remain here another winter, I think I shall be tempted to risk my life in the boat. We shall not be able to do anything more until spring tides again. The barometer has been very low all the week—lowest on Friday, 28·65: during the hurricane it rose or fell as the wind lulled or increased in violence, and is now 29·40; steadily rising. Thermometer 38°.

Sunday, August 14, 1864.—Since last Sunday we have had what we call very fine weather—that is to say, we have had no gales; but otherwise the weather has been very variable, with frequent showers of rain and snow. Atmosphere alternately hazy, foggy, or clear, aud the sun peeping through the clouds once or twice a day, or, perhaps, not more than half-a-dozen times during the whole week; with light airs, generally from the westward, but more frequently calm. This is what we are obliged to call fine weather in page 53this part of the world. It will be a glorious change if ever we get back to the land where the sun shines every day; and it is to be hoped we shall, and that before very long now. I don't know how it is, but for the last few days I have felt unaccountably fidgety and uneasy, as if I were every moment expecting some extraordinary occurrence.

Yesterday I got to where I could see well down the harbour, and sat on a rock all day, expecting to see a vessel coming in. This morning I walked all about the beach, expecting the same thing; still I have no right to expect such an event for at least two months to come. We have not been able, on account of the neap tides, to do anything at the 'Grafton' last week; but in the middle of the incoming week we shall have the full moon springs, when I hope we shall be able to get her a little higher on the beach.

On Tuesday morning we went in the boat, about four o'clock, to go seal hunting. We were unsuccessful at the first place where we had expected to find them, and took a turn farther up the bay to try and get some mussels or widgeons; and luckily, about eleven o'clock, we found three seals on shore, and killed them. Two were cows in calf, the other this year's calf. These are the only seals we have seen on shore in the daytime for a very long while, but as the weather gets milder no doubt they will come up to sun themselves. On this day there were also great numbers in the water, and we saw our old friend, 'Royal Tom,' whom we have not seen for a long time. It is to be hoped they will return here again towards calving-time. First part of the week the barometer was high, 30·30. Since Wednesday it has been down to 29·40, and is now rising, 29·65; thermometer about 40° at noon.

Sunday, August 21, 1864.—During the greater part of the past week the weather has been very fine. On Monday the wind was light from south-west, with light scattered clouds and clear atmosphere. This was a truly page 54fine day. On Tuesday the barometer fell to 28·65, although the wind was at south, and very light. On Wednesday, at 9 a.m., the wind shifted suddenly to southeast, and increased to a hard gale (the only south-east gale we have had since we came here), with sleet and much snow, and lasted 18 hours. The snow lies yet thick on the ground. This was the heaviest snow-fall we have had during the winter. When the gale was at its height the barometer began to rise rapidly, and when it died away the wind hauled to north-east. Barometer 30?2, where it has remained up to the present time, with fine and generally clear weather, and frost during the night. Whenever we had frost it has been with light north-east winds, and this (or any easterly winds) never occurs excepting at or about the fall of the moon.

All the week we have been working tide-time, night and day, at the wreck, and a precious miserable job we have had; for we were obliged to be up to our middle in water all the time nearly, with the thermometer from 2° to 5° below freezing, which was anything but comfortable. But I was determined to try what could be done towards getting her a little higher up on the beach. The men worked with great spirit and energy, fully expecting that we would be able to get her up and repair her, so that, in case no aid comes for us, we could make her carry us to New Zealand. However, the result has proved contrary to their expectations, though precisely in accordance with my own. I had given them too much encouragement to hope, which was perhaps wrong; for they have been very much disappointed since yesterday, when we had fairly proved that it was out of our power to do anything with her, except it be to break her up, and, as a last resource, try and make something out of her remains that will take us away from here, if it only be to drown at sea. After getting all the ballast out of her, we tried by pumping and baling to keep the water down, but found it impossible. We then, with considerable difficulty, got her thrown over on the page 55other bilge, and found a number of holes in her, some of her timbers broken, and the main wheel gone from the stern to about the main rigging. This was done when we first struck. The holes have no doubt been chafed through since. We threw her back on her sore side again. Nothing more can be done. Barometer falling, 29·90. Thermometer, noon, 36°; midnight, 24°.

Sunday, August 28, 1864.—All last week the weather has been very fine, with easterly or southerly winds. On Friday it blew a strong gale from the south, which lasted 24 hours, but the weather was dry and fine, although cloudy. On the whole the weather has been much better during the winter than it was during the latter part of last summer. Indeed, from the 1st of April to the present time, we have only had one very severe gale, which was on the 6th and 7th of this month; whereas, from the 1st of January till the 1st of April, on an average, we had one fine day out of seven. So that it may be concluded that the weather during the winter months is more moderate, with more easterly winds, but unfortunately more frequent and denser fogs than during the summer months—at least the latter part of the summer, which is as far as my experience and observation go. I hope and trust it will not be extended throughout the whole year. I do not expect a vessel here until the middle of October, and I don't think that my anxiety after that time can surpass what it is at present for that time to arrive. I have commenced clearing away a place where I intend to keep the look-out, and Mr. Raynal and I purpose going and taking up our quarters there on the first day of October.

I am glad to find that the seals are becoming as numerous as ever, if not more so. On Wednesday morning we went out early, with the boat, to look for some fresh meat, and at the peep of day we got four young ones, and we saw upwards of 50 within a distance of half a mile. The shores appeared to be literally page 56crowded with them. Had we wanted to kill seals, I have no doubt but we might have killed a hundred in this short distance, and more elsewhere had we wanted them. And now, as my book is full, I shall continue my journal page 138 in another book. The barometer has been about 29·50 all the week, and is now rising, 29·80. Thermometer at noon 40°.