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Castaway on the Auckland Isles

Chapter VIII. — launch of the boat

page 90

Chapter VIII.
launch of the boat.

Friday, June 23, 1865.—It is now more than two months since I wrote, and anticipated being away in three days, but 'man proposes and God disposes.' Since that time we have had our greatest trials and difficulties to contend with. In the first place, when we got an opportunity of putting the plank on to the boat, we found that it would not stand bending, although well steamed. We were then obliged to almost remodel the boat entirely, and cut planks out of the bush, which, with our saw, which required sharpening every half-hour, was an exceedingly tedious operation. In the next place, everything was buried in snow for three weeks; then followed heavy rains and continued wet stormy weather up to the present time, in which we, and myself in particular, persisted in working; and we were all seized with a violent attack of dysentery about the same time. This we have all recovered from; but I am left with rheumatic pains and cramps, which will in all probability cling to me through life. This is not to be wondered at. I am very much surprised that I have stood it at all, for my clothing is in a most wretched and deplorable state. It is useless for me to describe it—it is a complete bundle of rags; and by adding to these troubles grim starvation, which all along has been gnawing at our bowels, we have a summary of our calamities, the details of which would be sickening. But, thank God! we are now in reality on the point of surmounting or ending our wretchedness and misery.

The boat is finished, rigged, sails bent, and ready for launching; but the weather is at present so dreadfully bad page 91that it is impossible to launch her. In the meantime we are keeping body and soul together by eating roots and drinking water. The meat that we salted and dried eighteen months ago, and which has long been shrivelled up like chips, has now come into requisition, and is used sparingly and with a relish. We also shoot sea-gulls or any other scavengers that come within reach of us. Everything that is really fit to eat keeps out of our reach. We have had one seal since I last wrote, and this one affords another and more striking instance of the savage manner in which these animals fight. It was found by one of the men in a place where I have no doubt it had gone to die. One of its fore flippers was entirely torn away from its body; the other one was cut or broken off by the lower joint; the lower jaw broken, and the flesh torn away from underneath, and with a strip of skin about two inches wide torn off all the way down the belly, and another strip was torn off its back, from the top of the head to its tail, which was left quite bare to the bone. How it had managed to crawl out of the water I cannot imagine, and whether it had been set into by more than one seal I am unable to conjecture. It was a cow, and was with calf.

This great scarcity of meat has not been for want of searching after it. We have constantly had one, and sometimes two, men out on the forage. If the boat was afloat, I have no doubt but we should be able to find as much as we could eat. When we get her afloat, we shall at once lay in a sea stock, and be off with the first slant of wind. I consider, now that we have finished, we have made an excellent job of the boat, and she is not at all unsightly. Indeed, she may be pronounced a neat, substantial-looking, but small yacht, and what we have done is indeed substantially done. I wish the old bottom was half as good as the new work. Here remains the only doubt of our safety. If that stands we are safe; if not, we sink, which will be preferable to the bodily sufferings and hellish mental tortures I suffer here. But a truce to all ideas page 92excepting that of being shortly restored to all that is dear to me on earth. We are all in first-rate spirits, considering the misery with which we are surrounded. It is only this evening that we have got the boat ready for launching, and indeed there are several little preparations uncompleted yet.

Mr. Raynal is still making his hammer ring in the forge, although it is now half-past one o'clock in the morning. He is just finishing his last job, and I have snatched this opportunity for writing a little. Raynal has all along worked until eleven o'clock or midnight. There has been an amazing quantity of blacksmith work required for that small boat, which he has executed in a surprisingly skilful manner, and he has worked very hard. For my part, I have worked harder with my hands for the last nine months than ever I did in my whole previous lifetime; but I must not complain of this, for had I not done so I don't suppose I should now have been above the earth to write about it. I shall not be able to write much more, for my book is full, and I do not know whether I shall be able to muster up another scrap of paper or not.

In some part of my journal I have noticed an animal burrowing in the earth. About six weeks ago we caught a young cat of the common domestic species. We caught her in a trap in the forge, where she, no doubt, went to warm herself, after everything was quiet. We first kept her in a box for a few days, and then tied her up in the house near the fire, where in a few days she appeared to have become quite contented and reconciled to her lot. The strap about her neck by some means got broken, but still she remained about the house for some time, keeping under the floor in the daytime, and coming out in the evening; and she soon cleared the house of mice, with which we were dreadfully infested: but after a short time she was missing, and we saw nothing of her for some time, when she again made her appearance in the forge, where she continues to be a regular nocturnal visitor, and is quite page 93tame, and likes to be petted and played with; but she never makes her appearance until after dark. Cats may be very numerous on the island, and still not be out in the daytime; therefore we do not see them. Whether they are the only animal that makes holes in the ground here or not I am yet unable to say positively; but if such be the case (judging from the number of holes), they are numerous, and are all round the shores of this vast bay.

On the 27th June we launched the boat, and took with us such things as we might require whilst lying at Camp Cove. Fortunately it was perfectly calm, for on getting the boat into the water we found her so tender, the least movement put her almost on her beam ends; indeed some of the men were quite frightened, and would gladly have gone on shore again. I explained to them that she would not turn over entirely so long as the ballast, which was composed chiefly of salted seal skins, did not shift, which was impossible; but at the same time I felt sadly disappointed in her myself, and I felt doubtful as to whether it would be prudent to venture forth in her or not—certainly not in her present condition; but I thought I should be able to make such alterations as would render her more fit to go to sea. We pulled her down to Camp Cove, a distance of about seven miles, and arrived there at dark in the evening, and after some little trouble, on account of the darkness, we succeeded in landing some sails, which we had brought for making a tent with, and other articles.

From this date, until the 11th July, we had very severe weather, and heavy gales from all points of the compass. I have proved this to be an excellent anchorage, perfectly sheltered from all winds, and good holding-ground. We altered the disposition of the ballast in the boat, as also her rig, from that of a cutter to a lug sail and jib, which latter rig I find is the most suitable; but I found that five of us were too many to attempt going to sea in her. I pointed this out to the men, and proposed that two should remain on the island, whilst I and two others tried to page 94reach New Zealand, when, if I arrived safe (of which I had very grave doubts), I would immediately find some means of sending for those who remained. This proposal appeared to be opposed by the whole party, some of them saying, 'Well, if any of us are to be drowned, let us all drown together' I endeavoured to convince them of the folly of risking all our lives, and told them that, had any one else been capable of navigating the boat, I would have preferred remaining behind, as, should those in the boat be lost, I and whoever was with me would still have a chance of being rescued, sooner or later; but, seeing my arguments had little effect, I let the matter drop. We had frequently been out in the boat hunting for food, which about this part of the harbour was very scarce; and the oftener I went out the more I felt convinced that the boat was unfit to carry all of us; still I felt anxious that we should all get away together, although at the same time I saw the imprudence of such a step.

On the morning of the 11th we got a fair wind, and in anticipation of the event had to set to work in the night and cooked up all the seal and shag—which birds I heretofore dignified with the name of widgeon—that we had, and which I considered sufficient to take us to Stewart's Island. About eight o'clock in the morning a fine breeze was blowing; the boat was hauled to the rocks by me and Mr. Raynal, and everything was ready for putting the provisions on board and starting. I went up to the tent and told them to bring down what was to go in the boat, and we would be off at once; when, to my astonishment, they all begged of me not to start, as they were afraid that it was going to blow hard. I now found that I was going to have some trouble with them; they were afraid to go, yet they objected to being left behind. I saw the necessity of having three hands in the boat, or Raynal and I would have gone by ourselves. I now saw that I must alter my tactics, and at once determined not to take them all; and on the 13th (two days later) I took two of them back to page 95the old camp at the wreck, and left them there. Their names were George Harris and Henry Folgee. These two had always agreed very well, and the latter had evinced a strong disinclination to going in the boat at all; therefore I considered these the proper men to leave behind, giving them everything that we could spare. After landing them, we returned to Camp Cove, so as to be ready for starting with the first fair wind.

Several days of very bad weather succeeded, and we got very short of food; but on the 18th the weather moderated, and we managed to get a young seal and a few shag, which we cooked on that evening, expecting a fair wind on the following day.