Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 4

Go on Board the Mississippi — Wet Weather — Visit Lucky Bay — Interview with Natives — Wylie Understands Their Language — Get the Horses Shod — Prepare to Leave the Vessel — Kindness and Liberality of Captain Rossiter — Renew Journey to the Westward — Fossil Formation Still Continues — Salt Water Streams and Lakes — A Large Salt River — Character Of the Country.

June 5

June 5. — From this time until the fourteenth of June I remained on board the Mississippi, enjoying the hospitality of Captain Rossiter. Wylie went out once or twice to try to shoot a kangaroo for the ship, but he never succeeded; he had so much to eat on board that he had no stimulus to exertion, and did not take the trouble necessary to insure success. During almost the whole of the time that I remained on board the Mississippi, the weather was exceedingly boisterous, cold, and wet, and I could not but feel truly thankful that I had not been exposed to it on shore; even on board the ship, with shelter and extra clothing, I felt very sensibly the great change which had taken place in the temperature.

I regretted greatly that during my stay I had not the opportunity of seeing a whale caught. There was only once an attempt at a chase. In this instance three boats were sent out, commanded by the Captain and the two mates, but after a considerable lapse of time, and a long interval of suspense and anxiety, the fish chased turned out to be a hump-back, and as this was not deemed worth catching, the boats returned to the ship. The life led by the whalers, as far as I was able to judge, from the short time I was with them, seemed to be one of regularity, but of considerable hardship. At half-past six or seven in the evening they invariably went to bed, but were up at the first dawn of day, and sometimes even before it, the boats were then usually sent to a distance from the ship to look out for whales, and whether fortunate or otherwise, they would always have a pretty hard day’s work before they returned. They were, however, well fed, being apparently even better dieted than the generality of merchant-ships; the bread was of a better quality, and the allowance of butter, cheese, beans, and other little luxuries much more liberal. In the Mississippi the crew were generally young men, and with few exceptions all were complete novices at sea; this I was told was in consequence of an expected war between England and France, and the prohibition of able seamen from leaving their country. Captain Rossiter assured me that he had not been allowed for a considerable length of time to sail at all from France, as the war was daily expected to break out. He was still ignorant as to what had been done in this respect, and naturally felt very anxious at being, as he might imagine, on an enemy’s coast.

During the time I remained on board the vessel, a party of natives once or twice came down to the beach, and as I was anxious to enter into commucation with them, two were induced to get into the boat and come on board; as I expected, my boy Wylie fully understood the language spoken in this part of the country, and could converse with them fluently. Through him I learnt that they had never seen white people before the Mississippi anchored here, which was somewhat singular, considering the frankness with which they visited us, and the degree of confidence they appeared to repose in us. Of the interior I could gain no satisfactory account, they said that as far inland as they were acquainted with the country, it was similar to what we saw, that there was an abundance of water in the valleys in small wells, that there was a lake and fresh water river, but that there was little or no wood anywhere. In turn they were curious to know where we had come from, or where we were going; but Wylie, who in this respect, at least, was prudent and cautious, told them that we had come from the eastward to join the ship, and were now going to remain. Finding I could gain no further useful information, presents of fish and biscuits were made to them, and they were put on shore, highly pleased with their visit. During the remainder of my stay, I had no further opportunity of entering into conversation with these people, as the weather was generally wild, and they could not procure much shelter or fire-wood on the coast, had they come down to see us.

A few days before I contemplated commencing the renewal of my journey, I requested the Captain to allow a blacksmith he had on board to shoe my horses, and to this he kindly consented, but as a scarcity of iron prevailed, some old harpoons and lances had to be worked up for this purpose. The blacksmith who was a Frenchman, made his shoes and nails in so different, and apparently in so much more clumsy manner than I was accustomed to, that I was almost afraid of letting him put them on, and tried hard, but in vain, to get him to imitate the English shoe and nail in ordinary use.

Finding that I was likely to derive no advantage from my officious interference, I determined to let him have his own way, and was surprised and delighted to find that he performed his work well and skilfully, the only unusual part of the operation to me, being the necessity he appeared to be under, of always having a man to hold up the leg of the horse whilst he put the shoe on, instead of holding the foot up himself, as an English blacksmith does; such however, he assured me was the practice always in France, and he appeared to think it the best too. Having had my horses shod, I got some canvass from the Captain, to make bags for carrying my provisions, and then giving him a list of stores that I wished to take with me, I commenced preparations for leaving my hospitable entertainer. Every thing that I wished for, was given to me with a kindness and liberality beyond what I could have expected; and it gives me unfeigned pleasure, to have it now in my power to record thus publicly the obligations I was under to Captain Rossiter.

June 4

June 4. — This morning the weather appeared tolerably fine, and I landed with the French doctor for the purpose of walking across to Thistle Cove. After travelling four miles over a sandy heathy country, we arrived at the pretty little fresh water lake, so accurately described by Captain Flinders, and which I had so anxiously looked forward to attaining, that we might halt to rest, and recruit the horses. There is no timber around the lake, beyond a few xamias, grass trees, and some stunted tea-trees; neither was there much grass. In other respects, I could not have pitched upon a more favourable place to have halted at: for near the lake abounded the flag reed, of which the root was so valuable for food. This one article would have supported us well during our stay here, whilst the many bluff rocks, with deep calm water close to them, extending all around the promontory which projected into the sea, and round the bay, held out great promise that fish could readily have been caught. Ducks were also numerous in the lake, and kangaroos on shore. The day turned out very bleak and wet, and we both got thoroughly soaked through before we got back to the vessel, which was not until about two in the afternoon; I was then obliged to borrow a dry suit from the Captain, whilst my own clothes were drying.

June 3

June 3. — I arose at day-break, as I found the whalers breakfasted betimes, to enable them to send their boats away to look out, at an early hour. In fact, during the season, I was informed, that it was not unusual to send them to their posts before the break of day, and especially so, if other vessels were in company, or there was any competition. After breakfast I landed with the Captain, to get up and inspect the horses; poor animals they had not gone far and were doubtless glad at not being required to march away to-day. I was only sorry that the country did not abound more in grass. Plenty of water left by the rains was procurable, in the ledges of the granite rocks, but the vegetation was scanty, the soil being very sandy, and covered principally with small shrubs, heathy plants, etc.

Leaving the horses to enjoy their respite from labour, I accompanied the Captain to see a garden made by the sailors, in which peas and potatoes had already been planted, and appeared to be growing well. A rich piece of land had been selected on a slope, bordering upon a salt water creek, which here wound through the level country towards the sea. The water in this creek, was brackish in the upper part, but seaward it was quite salt, it had a bar mouth of sand, which was quite dry. Unfortunately, the Captain had no garden seeds but the peas and potatoes, so that their labours were confined to cultivating these; otherwise during the many months spent by them in bay whaling, they might have abundantly supplied themselves with a variety of vegetables, at once an agreeable and wholesome addition to the ordinary diet on board ship. After dinner I went with the Captain to visit an island near, upon which he kept his live stock, such as pigs, sheep, and tortoises; the two latter had been procured from the west side of the island of Madagascar; the sheep were strange looking animals, more like goats than sheep, of all colours, and with fat tails, like the Cape sheep. Their cost at Madagascar had been a tumbler full of powder a piece; a bullock would have cost ten bottles full, and other things could have been procured at proportionable prices. The principal articles in request among the Madagases, were said to be powder, brass headed trunk nails, muskets, gun-flints, clear claret bottles, looking-glasses, and cutlery.

The greater part of the day was very cold and showery, and I remained quietly on board, reading some old English papers. Wylie was as happy as he could be. It was true he did not understand a word spoken by those around him (for not a soul on board spoke English but the Captain), but he had as much to eat as he desired; and to do him justice, I believe he made the most of the opportunity. On the other hand, his capacity for eating entertained the Frenchmen, with the exception, perhaps, of his first meal on board, and then, I believe, that the immense number of biscuits he devoured, and the amazing rapidity with which they disappeared, not only astounded, but absolutely alarmed them. Fish were caught in great numbers from the ship’s side, mackarel and baracoota being obtained every day. Other varieties might have been procured off the rocks near the shore, from which there were many places well adapted for fishing. Periwinkles abounded, and crabs were numerous among the crevices of the rocks. Altogether, this seemed to be a most favourable place; and had we not met with the vessel, it would have held out to us the prospect of obtaining as abundant a supply of food for ourselves as we had got at Point Malcolm, without the necessity of destroying the poor foal. The night again set in very wild, cold, and wet.

June 2 Continued

June 2. — AFTER watering the horses at a deposit left by the rains, in the sheets of granite near us, and turning them loose, we piled up our little baggage, and in less than an hour we were comfortably domiciled on board the hospitable Mississippi, — a change in our circumstances so great, so sudden, and so unexpected, that it seemed more like a dream than a reality; from the solitary loneliness of the wilderness, and its attendant privations, we were at once removed to all the comforts of a civilised community.

After we had done ample justice to the good cheer set before us, by our worthy host, he kindly invited us to remain on board as long as we pleased, to recruit our horses, and told us, that when we felt refreshed sufficiently to renew the journey, he would supply us with such stores and other articles as we might require. I learnt that the Mississippi had but recently arrived from France, and that she had only been three weeks upon the ground she had taken up for the season’s whaling. As yet no whales had been seen, and the season was said not to commence before the end of June or beginning of July. The boats I saw in the morning belonged to her, and had been out chasing what they thought to be a whale, but which proved to be only a fin-back, a species which was not thought to repay the trouble of trying out.

Early in the evening the whalers retired to rest, and I had a comfortable berth provided for me in the cabin, but could not sleep; my thoughts were too much occupied in reflecting upon the great change which the last few hours had wrought in the position of myself and my attendant. Sincerely grateful to the Almighty for having guided us through so many difficulties, and for the inexpressible relief afforded us when so much needed, but so little expected, I felt doubly thankful for the mercy we experienced, when, as I lay awake, I heard the wind roar, and the rain drive with unusual wildness, and reflected that by God’s blessing, we were now in safety, and under shelter from the violence of the storm, and the inclemency of the west season, which appeared to be setting in, but which, under the circumstances we were in but a few short hours ago, we should have been so little able to cope with, or to endure.