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Monday, February 10, 2014

Mrs. R. discusses navigation

The voyage of the convict transport Friendship from Capetown to the coast of New Holland, told from the point of view of the captain's wife

[December 26, 1799] On the second day, we spoke the Sir Edward Hughes, from Madras, having three other Indiamen in company; they had no news, but said they had met with very bad weather, off Lagullas Bank, for fourteen days past, and only made progress as the current impelled them against the wind. 

For five or six days after this, we experienced very bad weather ourselves, notwithstanding the wind was fair, and the ship running at the rate of from 140 to 150 miles in the 24 hours, with only the foresail set. Still we suffered; for during that time nothing could be cooked as the high sea came rolling in at both sides of the ship, constantly filling the decks with water; as for myself, if the best dressed victuals had been placed before me, I could not have looked at it, being sadly sea-sick the whole time. 

During the gale, the captain lost three fine horses, and a great quantity of other live stock; the only apprehensions they had, were of the helm-ropes breaking, but a kind Providence took care of us.

The late gales appeared to be the last blast of the old year; for the first day of 1800 was ushered in by fine settled weather; that the new years might be propitious to the poor prisoners, the captain ordered the fetters to be taken off an additional number of the best behaved amongst them, promising the rest, that if their conduct merited well, as soon as land was seen on the coast of New Holland, every prisoner should then be released from his irons, but that all depended upon a proper subordinate behaviour. Several of them had been relieved from the weight of fetters shortly after we left Ireland, and continued so all the voyage, having conducted themselves with every propriety. It was fortunate both for themselves and us, that there were amongst them men of education and sense; who doubtless contributed to restrain the others from evil and violence; one [Rev. James Dixon] was said to be a Roman-Catholic clergyman, and we trusted that his influence was beneficial.

After setting things a little to rights, from the derangement caused by the late gales; being at sea, one evening the captain said, he should next day have some of his stores up which the shipped waves had reached to dry. I seldom interfered or spoke on such a subject; but, in this instance, could not help observing, that if they intended drying any thing tomorrow, they would most likely be disappointed, for it would be wet, telling them I judged from my barometer, which was the little turtle, which had kept at the bottom of the tumbler all the evening. They laughed at my remarks; but so it turned out; as, for several days after, we had many squalls of wind and much rain. I was hence frequently asked about the weather, Whether it would be rain, or sunshine? This living barometer of mine did not always foretell the changes in the atmosphere exactly; but three times out of five it did so, when enquiry was made, but observing it: sometimes it happened never to be thought of, for days together; but it always had a few flies thrown in daily by one of the servants, for that was a kind of stock we had a most abundant supply of.

We were now in the neighborhood of the islands called Amsterdam and St. Paul; but as the weather was unsettled, with squalls and rain, it was judged proper to pass to the south of them. The gunner of our ship had been formerly in an Indiaman which called at these islands, where they found some men that had been left there by an American, to procure seal-skins. These men had been upon the islands five months, and had procured many skins; they had no desire to leave the place, saying they knew their own ship would call for them. In narrating their local adventures, they informed the Indiaman alluded to, that at first they had been much alarmed, supposing the place was haunted, hearing strange rumbling noises, but afterwards discovered it was occasioned by earthquakes, to which, from their frequency, they had become accustomed. There are upon Amsterdam hot springs, running into a pond, in which these men cooked the eggs of the wild sea birds which they caught. The Indiaman gave them two bags of biscuits, a little spirits, some shoes, and other little necessaries; these recluses appeared reconciled to their situation, and were left as they wished.

Having still strong winds from the western quarter, the ship went on at a great rate each day, until we drew near Van Dieman’s Land; but it so happened that the ship had gone upwards of 300 miles farther than the log measured, since leaving the Cape, which was found out by the moon’s distance from the sun and stars. This frequently caused altercations between the chief and second mates; the latter, who had been always employed in the West India trade, knew nothing of finding the ship’s place by observation, and always treated such science as erroneous. 

It happened one night, that the captain and chief mate got what they called good sights of the moon and some stars; and their first calculation was confirmed next day by observing the sun and moon’s distance, which enabled them to know the exact position of the ship: in consequence of which the chief mate, after dinner, asked the captain if they should prepare the anchors and cables, as it was expected the land would be seen next day. The captain answered yes; but the second mate was so positive that his own reckoning was right, that he offered to lay any wager that the ship was 400 miles farther from the land than they supposed. The captain had often, on the voyage, tried to persuade him to have confidence in the lunar observations, but to no purpose. The anchors were, however, got ready, and people looking out from the masts’ heads, before night, for the land; at the same time the ship was put under a reduced sail during the night.

After dark, we were surprised to see many luminous blazes or flashes in the water, a little under the surface, near the ship; it was not fish, for when the flash was emitted, it appeared stationary for a few seconds, and then disappeared. This was not confined to a single object, as at times eight or ten corruscations were seen in different directions at the same instant. As the substance causing these appearances was not seen, it cannot be farther described; they were termed in the logbook, Van Dieman’s Water Lanthorns, from our vicinity to the land of that name; for next morning, 23d February at daylight, it was descried, very much to the disappointment of Mr. Macdonald, who said, it must be some new discovery, and not New Hollands.  

However he afterwards was convinced; for the captain observed in a jocular manner, that if it was the southern extremity of New Holland, a ship would very soon be discovered; for the last time he passed this place one was stationary off the south cape; he had scarcely done speaking, when the men on the yards, letting reefs out of the sails, called out that they saw a ship on the bow. The captain replied, “Very well;” but told Mr. Muirhead, what was taken for a ship, was only a perpendicular rock, and had been called the Eddystone, by Captain Cook, from its likeness to the lighthouse of that name in the British Channel.

1 comment:

Martin Evans said...

Very interesting log. Curious that a mate would not accept 'lunars' as late as 1799, and that the captain was skilled at the necessary calculations. Evidently they were not carrying any chronometer.