Imágenes de páginas

Small, old, and of unpromising appearance, she obtained passengers only because it happened that there was no other vessel for England at the time. My cabin measured five feet eleven by four feet six, with an aperture of about six inches in diameter for light and air. Here were accommodated bed, toilet, and clothes for a voyage of (it was expected) four months. The straitness of the dimensions ensured this advantage, that you always put a thing in its own place, because there was no other. In temperate weather one was very comfortable ; but in the tropics it was otherwise, and to remain long with a closed door was impossible, especially at first when the place was scented by a rich coat of fresh white paint.

Our party consisted of Mr. Beauchamp, a civilian proceeding to the Cape for his health ; Mr. M‘Dowall, a fine young officer of cavalry, suffering from diseased liver ; Dr. Boeke, of the Danish garrison at Tranquebar, returning to Europe with a constitution shattered by cholera ; and two orphan children of an officer lately deceased. A young man of highly respectable connexions was a steerage passenger. The Captain also had on board his wife and a little daughter; the former of whom was suffering from dysentery, which had attacked her at Madras.

For the first week the air was almost still, with a cloudless sky, and vertical sun; the heat was extreme; but the sea appeared to revive us all, while the Captain's wife and Mr. M‘Dowall observably improved. At length a good breeze relieved us from the intense heat, and the discomfort of inaction ; but, at the same time, made the disclosure, that our ship was a most wretched sailer, and, moreover, leaky. With regard to the former, the Captain assured us that, “though she was slow, she was sure ;” and, with regard to the latter, that we need apprehend no danger, for the leak was “all in the upper seams.” We were very soon led to suspect that we should have no more reason to congratulate ourselves on the commissariat of our good ship than on her speed and tightness.

One day, while seated at dinner, we heard “Ned” repeatedly called with such emphasis, that it seemed impossible that any one on board should fail to hear, whether asleep or awake. “Ned” did not answer. During the morning the Second Mate and several of the men had been in the after-hold stowing the ship’s stores. The Chief Mate, apparently suspecting that “Ned” was among the stores, suddenly started from the table, and dashing down a hatch, soon emerged, dragging with him a tall, lumbering young sailor, who was evidently intoxicated, and whom he was greeting in terms of the least imaginable suavity. “Ned” had scarcely gained the deck before we heard a violent struggle. To exonerate himself, he declared that the Second Mate had given him the spirits, whereupon that officer struck him, and, in return, received a very unhandsome black eye. It proved that he had intoxicated himself and every man on board but two or three. He was degraded on the spot, and ordered to go before the mast,* which order he peremptorily refused to obey. In the evening we had a second disturbance, between the Captain and a quiet, inoffensive sailor, who had fallen into the same snare as the others. The Captain upbraided “ Jim” for being drunk ; “ Jim” retorted by a remark not complimentary to the Captain's abstinence; and immediately ensued a hand-to-hand contest. “ Jim” tore the Captain's shirt off his back; but the Captain hurled him bodily down the after-hatch. A man was sent down after him to put him in irons, who, during the operation, moralized for our comfort, by saying,

* To take the place of a common sailor.

" A pretty mess we shall be in if a squall takes us, and not a hand to furt a sail.” Mercifully, we had no squall. In the morning the men were “ called aft :” * in the presence of Mr. Beauchamp and myself, the Captain explained the aggravated character of their offence; at his request, Mr. Beauchamp read the ship's articles, in which they had promised good conduct. We then said a word or two, urging them to observe the articles in future ; after which “ Jim” was removed from irons, and they were all pardoned but the Mate, against whom the sentence of degradation was confirmed. He persisted in refusing to go before the mast, and consequently remained idle. The ship's articles apprized us that her registered tonnage, instead of four hundred, as had been advertised, was two hundred and sixty ; that the crew shipped in London, Mates, men, and all except an apprentice, had deserted at Van Diemen's Land; and that of our present hands only three were able seamen. The others were various : one was a joiner, another a barber, another a butcher. The whole voyage had been disastrous. Sailing from London for Launceston, (V, D.,) with a full complement of passengers, the passage had been spent in wretched disputes, and terminated by being driven ashore near their port. The vessel was saved, but none of the crew waited to take their homeward passage in her. She was ordered to the Burmese coast for a cargo of timber; but after several adventures among the Nicobar Islands, found herself on the west side of the Bay of Bengal instead of the east, at Madras instead of Moulmein, two ports as far apart as Plymouth and Lisbon. A carpenter had been shipped at Launceston, who was accompanied by his wife : while they lay at Madras intrigues and disputes arose, during which she leaped overboard at midnight, and was seen no more. Her husband left the ship, which, leaky as she was, thus remained without a carpenter.

From the first, we had two services every Sabbath. The state of my eyes disabled me from reading ; but my excellent fellow-passenger, Mr. Beauchamp, admirably performed that part of the service. The men usually heard with attention; but their ignorance and thoughtlessness were lamentable. The first Monday evening of the voyage, seeing them at tea, I went and entered into conversation. “Ned,” who has already been introduced, said, “We was just a talkin' about your sermon, Sir ; and Tom P.” (for we had three Toms) “says as how you said it was never too late to repent; and so he says we need’nt trouble our heads about it; it’ill be time enough any day. Now I says, that what you meant was, that the sooner we do it the better for us.” “ Yes,” replied Tom, smiling incredulously, “Ned says he does it every day.” Turning to Ned for his explanation, he said, with unusual gravity, "Well, Sir, the last time I was at home, my mother took me to the Methodist chapel, and ever since then, every night when I turns in, I says a prayer; and so, you see, Sir, I clears off as I goes on.” Poor Ned evidently thought that he thus obeyed the call received at the Methodist chapel, and took all needful steps for his salvation. They paid much attention to my remarks, and at all times were willing to be instructed.

The convalescence of the Captain's wife soon proved to be deceptive: her disease made rapid progress; and. Dr. Boeke, who paid all possible attention, found such deficiency in both the medicine-chest and the Steward's pantry, that he had neither the remedies nor the cordials necessary. She died ;

* Summoned to the quarter-deck.

and a melancholy death-bed it was: by it I watched, and prayed, and mourned. We committed her to the deep with heavy hearts, fearing that we should soon have other burials. Shortly before her death, the Captain had fallen alarmingly ill; and about the same time Mr. M‘Dowall had a frightful relapse. The illness of the latter gradually assumed a fatal aspect; that of the former exhibited unaccountable fluctuations. Mr. M‘Dowall was " the only son of his mother, and she a widow.” Almost to the very last, he anticipated recovery : only a few days before his end, he said to me, “I do not feel like a dying man.” This very expectation of life made more striking the evidences which he gave of sincere repentance. From the first he showed tenderness of heart, and readily heard of the things of God. Mr. Beauchamp was unremitting in his attentions, and most happy in his influence. He lent him Legh Richmond's “ Annals of the Poor,” which he eagerly read, and said, with much simplicity, “I feel just as that young cottager felt.” I can see him now, as he lay on his couch pale and feeble, turning on me a look of timid anxiety, and asking, “Do you think there is any hope for me?” Gradually his conviction of sin, his sorrow for the past, his thirst for mercy became stronger; and at length gave place to a sober, but most cheerful, reliance on the Saviour's blood. Still anticipating life, he spoke with dread of its temptations; and, with a pleasing distrust of his own strength, expressed his earnest hope that God would give him grace to resist the world, and follow only Christ. When convinced that all prospect of recovery was passed, he peacefully accepted the alternative, and continued to rest upon Christ, cherishing sweet hopes of heaven. I watched by him the last night : he lay still as death, and from moment to moment I waited to see the end. There was no sound but the ripple of the waters as the ship glided through : the lamp, agitated by the motion of the vessel, cast a wavy light on his wan features, which, in every interval of consciousness, quietly beamed with hope, and even in those slumbers, so like death, and so near it, were sweetly peaceful. Separated only by a thin partition, and watched over by a sailor, lay the Captain at the point of death. I occasionally went in during the night : there lay he who had so lately been strong, incapable of life's least action, utterly insensible, and occasionally emitting a childish whine. In the one cabin and in the other the sufferers were at the very brink, and none could tell which would first be launched upon the viewless ocean. Just as I was alternately watching the dying looks of the young soldier, and the morning light coming in at the cabin window, my fellow-watcher came to say, that the Captain was no more About noon we committed him to the wide grave, in which a fortnight before we had laid his wife : his little girl was with us to see her father disappear in the same waters where her mother had so låtely gone. We had but just returned from this mournful scene, when poor M‘Dowall passed away, to use the words of his final message to his mother, “ in hope of everlasting life.” “In sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection,” we watched him into the peaceful wave; and felt that the joy of that sure hope gratefully lightened a dark and cloudy day.

Such a state of feeling had unhappily existed between the Captain and his officers, that when he became ill, he would not permit the Mate to use his chronometers, which he kept in his own cabin. We soon discovered that they had run down. All who know anything of navigation are well aware that, without a chronometer, it is impossible to ascertain your longitude at sea. However certain of your latitude, the chronometer alone can enable you to determine whether you are nearer the Cape of Good Hope or Swan-River, St. Helena or Bahia, the Cape Verds or the Antilles. We were thrown into no little trepidation. Providentially, Mr. Beauchamp had set his watch by the best chronometer a few days before ; and the Mate using it, decided that the nearest land was the island of Rodriguez, for which we accordingly shaped our course. To our great surprise, we fell in with the island the next morning ; for we had not expected to do so until after at least another day's sail. Now, knowing exactly our position, we resumed our course. The next day we rejoiced to see a sail ; for though in so early a stage of the voyage, our provisions were already short. We had killed the last sheep the day we crossed the line ; the few remaining fowls had for some time been in reserve for the sick; and bread, and many other articles, were either wanting, or of a quality utterly unfit for persons in delicate health. It was at once resolved to apply to the stranger. The Captain was dying, the Second Mate was off duty, and the First Mate had to abide by the ship : it fell upon me to take charge of a boat, though little accustomed to command on the high seas. Mr. Beauchamp, judging that our “ owner” would be as well pleased that our comforts should cost him nothing, put me in a condition to pay for whatever we might obtain, by giving me a blank check on his agents. The Doctor accompanied me, in hope of finding some medicines. The stranger proved to be a Scotch barque, without passengers, and bound for the Mauritius. Being so near her port, the stores were low : one solitary fowl was the only live stock ; this the Captain offered, but we declined it. We obtained two bags of yams, and one of bread; while the Doctor, besides some drugs, found one bottle of port wine, and one of brandy,-both of which articles were desiderata in our ship. The bread, though common sailors' biscuit, was free from vermin, and therefore a most welcome addition to our luxuries.

By this time our regular leakage, when we had anything of a breeze, was seven inches per hour. The pumps were of the old up-and-down model, and drew off the water slowly; so that every hour the mien had a long “ spell,” against the labour of which they murmured sorely ; sometimes expressing their fears that the "old basket(a term applied to a leaky, as “ tub” is to a slow, vessel) was bound for the bottom; and often wishing that they had the “ owner” at the pump, promising him such entertainment as would teach him not to deal in leaky ships. So long as the poor Captain was about, he firmly defended the character of his vessel ; averring that she was the best craft his “ owner” had ever possessed ; that he had brought home three leaky ships for him, and he would bring her home; and that she would make a good passage of it yet. To console us for the scantiness of provisions, he assured us that, on the voyage to Van-Diemen's Land, they had lived with even lavish profusion.

It was the most stormy season of the year when we neared the Cape ; and there was every reason to fear that one severe gale would increase the leak to a fatal amount. When approaching the land, a fine stiff breeze, lasting for three successive days, sorely tried our pumps, and made the men more than once exclaim, “If we get her into port, it will be the greatest mercy that ever was !” but it also sped us forward ; and, after bringing us

* The method is very simple. The chronometer keeps Greenwich time. You observe the sun at noon, and for every minute that he reaches the meridian before your chronometer points to twelve, you are one-fourth of a degree to the east, for every minute after, one-fourth of a degree to the west, of Greenwich. Every four minutes of difference between the sun and the chronometer is a degree ; every hour, fifteen degrees.

close upon the land, fell into a mild breeze. Our navigation was not remarkably accurate ; wide discrepancies frequently occurred between the reckoning of two successive days ; but it was all laid upon the currents. To-day the current would set us half a degree to the east; to-morrow, two degrees to the west! This made an approach to land rather anxious ; for though, in the wide sea, one can very well afford to blunder a few degrees, it will not do for a dangerous coast. There was no one on board who had been into the Cape ; nor had we “Horsburgh,” that faithful guide to eastern navigation; but, instead, we had the remains of a Directory, venerable, if not for authority, at least for age. One day the Mate confidently predicted that we should “sight the land” before sunset : two or three times the men thought they saw it ; but soon reported that it had been “ Cape Fly-away ;” and sunset came without any land. We stood on, with a brilliant moon. About one o'clock in the morning, the Mate called me to see the ship “hove-to close under the land." There lay the little barque riding the waves, with her sails glistening in the moon : close by, against the deep blue heaven, was reared a pile of black cliffs, skirted at the base by a waving line of white, where the breakers were loudly sounding. The Mate said we were off the mouth of False-Bay, and only waiting for the morning, to enter. We presently saw a sail just to the eastward ; and a trim schooner, sweeping along, with exquisite grace, in the moonlight, passed close by us. I advised the Mate to speak her ; but we had no trumpet! and though she came so close, that he might have put a question without it, he felt so confident of his position, that he did not think it worth while. Not being equally confident, I watched the direction of the schooner; and left the deck with an impression, that if we were in the mouth of False-Bay, she was standing right for the rocks, which I deemed the less probable alternative of the two.

On the western coast of Africa, about thirty miles from its southern extremity, is Table-Bay; immediately to the east of that extremity is False-Bay : Cape Town is situated on the former, Simon's Town on the latter. The neck of land between the two bays is about twenty miles wide; and the strip of land, which they form into a little peninsula, is an elevated ridge running for about thirty miles from north to south, and terminating on the north in Table-Mountain, on the south in the Cape of Good Hope. Table-Bay is exposed to the gales which prevail in winter, and is then unsafe ; False-Bay, being sheltered from those gales, is at that season the preferable harbour. Arriving in the depth of the southern winter, (July,) we made for False-Bay.

In the morning I found that a thick fog concealed the whole coast, except a low headland to the east, and a flat-headed eminence, for which we appeared to be steering. A curvature was observable ; but it at once struck me as being far too slight to answer to an opening so spacious as False-Bay. The more I looked, the stronger this doubt became ; till at length I ventured to express it. The Mate assured me we were entering the bay. “ That,” pointing to the low headland, “is Cape Lagullas; and that," pointing to the eminence, “is Table-Mountain.” “Why," I replied, “ Cape Lagullas and Table-Mountain are ninety miles apart : it is impossible we should see them both at the same time.” Rather embarrassed, he went below; and, on returning, said, “I have examined the chart, and no other part of the coast answers to the bearings.” I presently consulted the chart and Directory, which convinced me that our “ Table-Mountain” was the Gunner's Quoin, situated seventy miles from that celebrated elevation.

« AnteriorContinuar »