Peter the Whaler
by W.H.G. Kingston
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"What's that?" I asked of old David, who persevered in keeping close to me all the morning. "Is that a walrus blowing?" I thought it might be, for I could not make it out.

"A walrus! no, I should think not," he answered, in an indignant tone. "My lad, that's King Neptune's trumpeter, come to give notice that the old boy's coming aboard us directly. I've heard him scores of times; so I'm not likely to be wrong."

The answer I gave my shipmate was not very polite. One never likes to be quizzed; and I, of course, thought he was quizzing me.

"You'll see, lad," he answered, giving me no gentle tap on the head, in return for my remark. "I'm not one to impose on a bright green youth like you."

Again the bellow was heard. "That's not a bit like the sound of a trumpet," I remarked.

"Not like your shore-going trumpets, maybe," said old David, with a grin. "But don't you know, youngster, the water gets into these trumpets, and makes them sound different?"

A third bellow was followed by a loud hail, in a gruff, voice, "What ship is that, ahoy?"

Old David ran forward, and answered, "The Shetland Maid, Captain Rendall, of Hull."

"Heave to, while I come aboard, then; for you've got some green hands among you, I'm pretty sure, by the way your gaff-topsail stands."

"Ay, ay, your majesty. Down with your helm—back the main-topsail," sung out old David, with as much authority as if he was captain of the ship.

His orders were not obeyed; for before they were so, the gruff voice sung out, "Hold fast!" and a very curious group made their appearance over the bows, and stepped down on deck.

I was not left long in doubt as to whether or not there was anything supernatural about them. "There," exclaimed David, pointing with great satisfaction at them, "that big one, with the thing on his head which looks for all the world like a tin kettle, is King Neptune, and the thing is his helmet. T'other, with the crown and the necklace of spikes under her chin, is Mrs Neptune, his lawful wife; and the little chap with the big razor and shaving-dish is his wally-de-sham and trumpeter extraordinary. He's plenty more people belonging to him, but they haven't come on board this time."

Neptune's costume was certainly not what my father's school-books had taught me to expect his majesty to wear, and I had always supposed his wife to be Amphitrite; but I concluded that in those cold regions he found it convenient to alter his dress, while it might be expected the seamen should make some slight mistake about names.

Neptune himself had very large whiskers, and a red nightcap showed under his helmet. In one hand he held a speaking-trumpet, in the other a trident surmounted by a red herring. A piece of canvas, covered with bits of coloured cloth, made him a superb cloak, and a flag wound round his waist served him as a scarf. A huge pair of sea-boots encased his feet, and a pair of sealskin trousers the upper part of his legs. Mrs Neptune, to show her feminine nature, had a frill round her face, a canvas petticoat, and what looked very like a pair of Flushing trousers round her neck, with the legs brought in front to serve as a tippet. The valet had on a paper cocked-hat, a long pig-tail, and a pair of spectacles on a nose of unusual proportions. I had read descriptions of Tritons, the supposed attendants on Neptune, and I must say his valet was very unlike one. I might have been prejudiced, for I had no reason to feel any warm affection for him.

"Come here, youngster, and make your bow to King Neptune," exclaimed David, seizing me; and, with number of other green hands, I was dragged forward and obliged to bob my head several times to the deck before his marine majesty.

"Take 'em below. I'll speak to 'em when I wants 'em," said the king in his gruff voice. And forthwith we were hauled off together, and shut down in the cable tier.

One by one we were picked out, just as the ogre Fi-fo-fum in the story-book picked out his prisoners to eat them. There was a considerable noise of shouting and laughing and thumping on the decks, all of which I understood when it came to my turn.

After three others had disappeared, I was dragged out of our dark prison and brought into the presence of Neptune, who was seated on a throne composed of a coil of ropes, with his court, a very motley assemblage, arranged round him. In front of him his valet sat on a bucket with two assistants on either side, who, the moment I appeared, jumped up and pinioned my arms, and made me sit down on another bucket in front of their chief.

"Now, young 'un, you haven't got a beard, but you may have one some day or other, so it's as well to begin to shave in time," exclaimed Neptune, nodding his head significantly to his valet.

The valet on this jumping up, seized my head between his knees, and began, in spite of my struggles, covering my face with tar. If I attempted to cry out, the tar-brush was instantly shoved into my mouth, to the great amusement of all hands. When he had done what he called lathering my face, he began to scrape it unmercifully with his notched iron hoop; and if I struggled, he would saw it backwards and forwards over my face.

When this process had continued for some time, Neptune offered me a box of infallible ointment, to cure all the diseases of life. It was a lump of grease; and his valet, seizing it, rubbed my face all over with it. He then scrubbed me with a handful of oakum, which effectually took off the tar. Being now pronounced shaved and clean, to my great horror Mrs Neptune cried out in a voice so gruff, that one might have supposed she had attempted to swallow the best-bower anchor, and that it had stuck in her throat, "Now my pretty Master Green, let me give you a buss, to welcome you to the Polar Seas. Don't be coy now, and run off."

This I was attempting to do, and with good reason, for Mrs Neptune's cap-frill was stuck so full of iron spikes, that I should have had a good chance of having my eyes put out if she had succeeded in her intentions; so off I set, running round the deck, to the great amusement of the crew, with Mrs Neptune after me. Luckily for me she tripped up, and I was declared duly initiated as a North Sea whaler. The rest of my young shipmates had to undergo the same process; and as it was now my turn to look on and laugh, I thought it very good fun, and heartily joined in the shouts to which the rest gave way.

If any one got angry, he was soon made to cut so ridiculous a figure, and to feel his perfect helplessness, that he was compelled, for his own sake, to get back his good-humour again without delay. We had an additional allowance of grog served out, and what with dancing and singing, the fun was kept up till long after dark.

I need scarcely say that the representative of his marine majesty was no less a person than the red-whiskered cooper's mate, that his spouse was our boatswain, and the valet his mate. I had often heard of a similar ceremony being practised on crossing the line, but I had no idea that it was general on board all whale ships.

The fourth day of the month was a memorable one for me and the other green hands on board. The wind was from the westward, and we were sailing along to the eastward of a piece of ice, about two miles distant, the water as smooth as in a harbour. Daylight had just broke, but the watch below were still in their berths. The sky was cloudy, though the lower atmosphere was clear; and Andrew, who was walking the deck with me, observed it was first-rate weather for fishing, if fish would but show themselves.

Not ten minutes after this, the first mate, who had gone aloft into the crow's-nest to take a look-out round, eagerly shouted, "A fish! a fish! See, she spouts!" and down on deck he hurried with all despatch.

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the crews of two boats had jumped into them, and were lowering them down, with their harpoons, lances, and everything else ready, not forgetting some provisions, for it was impossible to say how long they might be away. The chief mate jumped into one, and the second harpooner into the other, in which my friend Andrew went as line-manager.

Away they pulled. I looked over the side, and saw the whale a mile off, floating, thoughtless of danger, on the surface of the ocean, and spouting out a fountain of water high into the air. I fancied that I could even hear the deep "roust" she made as she respired the air, without which she cannot exist any more than animals of the land or air. Every one on deck follows the boats with eager eyes. The boat makes a circuit, so as to approach the monster in the rear; for if he sees them, he will be off far down into the ocean, and may not rise for a long distance away. With rapid strokes they pull on, but as noiselessly as possible. The headmost boat is within ten fathoms of the fish—I am sure it will be ours. The harpooner stands up in the bows with harpoon in hand. Suddenly, with tail in air, down dives the monster; and the faces of all around me assume an expression of black disappointment. It must be remembered that, as all on board benefit by every fish which is caught, all are interested in the capture of one.

"It's a loose fall, after all," said old David, who was near me. "I thought so. I shouldn't be surprised if we went home with a clean ship after all."

However, the boats did not return. Mr Todd was not a man to lose a chance. Far too experienced ever to take his eye off a fish while it is in sight, he marks the way she headed, and is off after her to the eastward. With his strong arm he bends to the oar, and urges his men to put forth all their strength, till the boat seems truly to fly over the water. On they steadily pull, neither turning to the right hand nor to the left for nearly half-an-hour. Were it not for the ice, their toil would be useless; but the boat-steerer looks out, and points eagerly ahead.

On they pull. Then on a sudden appears the mighty monster. She has risen to the surface to breathe, a "fair start" from the boat. The harpooner stands up, with his unerring weapon in his hand: when was it ever known to miss its aim? The new-fangled gun he disdains. A few strong and steady strokes, and the boat is close to the whale. The harpoon is launched from his hank, and sinks deep into the oily flesh.

The boat is enveloped in a cloud of spray—the whole sea around is one mass of foam. Has the monster struck her, and hurled her gallant crew to destruction? No; drawn rapidly along, her broad bow ploughing up the sea, the boat is seen to emerge from the mist with a jack flying as a signal that she is fast, while the mighty fish is diving far below it, in a vain effort to escape.

Now arose from the mouth of every seaman on deck the joyful cry of "A fall, a fall!" at the same time that every one jumped and stamped on deck, to arouse the sleepers below to hasten to the assistance of their comrades. We all then rushed to the boat-falls.

Never, apparently, were a set of men in such a desperate hurry. Had the ship been sinking, or even about to blow up, we could scarcely have made more haste.

The falls were let go, and the boats in the water, as the watch below rushed on deck. Many of the people were dressed only in their drawers, stockings, and shirts, while the rest of their clothes were in their hands, fastened together by a lanyard; but without stopping to put them on, they tumbled into the boats, and seized their oars ready to shove off. Among them, pale with terror, appeared poor Tom Stokes and another youngster in their shirts. They hurried distractedly from boat to boat. At each they were saluted by, "We don't want you here, lads. Off with you—this isn't your boat."

I belonged to the after or smallest boat, which was most quickly manned, and most easily shoved off; so that I was already at a distance when he ran aft and saw me going. "O Peter, Peter!" he exclaimed in a tone to excite our commiseration, though I am sorry to say it only caused loud shouts of laughter, "you who have gone through so many dangers with me, to desert me at last in a sinking ship!"

Poor fellow, aroused out of a deep sleep by the unusual sounds, he not unnaturally thought the ship was going down. I heard the gruff voice of the cooper's mate scolding him; but what he said I don't know. The scolding must have brought him and the other back to their senses; and they of course went below to get their clothes, and to return to assist in working the ship. On such occasions, when all the boats are away, the ship is frequently left with only the master, one or two seamen, and the rest landsmen on board.

The moment the fast-boat displayed her jack, up went the jack on board the ship at the mizzen-peak, to show that assistance was coming. Away pulled the five boats as fast as we could lay back to our oars. The whale had dived to an immense depth, and the second boat had fastened her line to that of the first, and had consequently now become the fast-boat; but her progress was not so rapid but that we had every prospect of overtaking her. To retard the progress of the whale, and to weary it as much as possible, the line had been passed round the "bollard," a piece of timber near the stern of the boat. We knew that the first boat wanted more line by seeing an oar elevated, and then a second, when the second boat pulled rapidly up to her. The language of signs for such work is very necessary, and every whaler comprehends them.

We now came up and arranged ourselves on either side of the fast-boat, a little ahead, and at some distance, so as to be ready to pull in directly the whale should reappear at the surface. Away we all went, every nerve strained to the utmost, excitement and eagerness on every countenance, the water bubbling and hissing round the bows of the boats, as we clove our way onward.

"Hurra, boys! see, she rises!" was the general shout. Up came the whale, more suddenly than we expected. A general dash was made at her by all the boats. "'Stern for your lives; 'stern of all!" cried some of the more experienced harpooners. "See, she's in a flurry."

First the monster flapped the water violently with its fins; then its tail was elevated aloft, lashing the ocean around into a mass of foam. This was not its death-flurry; for, gaining strength before any more harpoons or lances could be struck into it, away it went again, heading towards the ice. Its course was now clearly discerned by a small whirling eddy, which showed that it was at no great distance under the surface, while in its wake was seen a thin line of oil and blood, which had exuded from its wound.

Wearied, however, by its exertions and its former deep dive, it was again obliged to come to the surface to breathe. Again the eager boats dashed in, almost running on its back, and from every side it was plied with lances, while another harpoon was driven deeply into it, to make it doubly secure. Our boat was the most incautious, for we were right over the tail of the whale. The chief harpooner warned us—"Back, my lads; back of all," he shouted out, his own boat pulling away. "Now she's in her death-flurry truly."

The words were not out of his mouth when I saw our harpooner leap from the boat, and swim as fast as he could towards one of the others. I was thinking of following his example, knowing he had good reasons for it, for I had seen the fins of the animal flap furiously, and which had warned him, when a violent blow, which I fancied must have not only dashed the boat to pieces, but have broken every bone in our bodies, was struck on the keel of the boat.

Up flew the boat in the air, some six or eight feet at least, with the remaining crew in her. Then down we came, one flying on one side, one on the other, but none of us hurt even, all spluttering and striking out together; while the boat came down keel uppermost, not much the worse either. Fortunately we all got clear of the furious blows the monster continued dealing with its tail.

"Never saw a whale in such a flurry," said old David, into whose boat I was taken. For upwards of two minutes the flurry continued, we all the while looking on, and no one daring to approach it; at the same time a spout of blood and mucus and oil ascended into the air from its blow-holes, and sprinkled us all over.

"Hurra, my lads, she spouts blood!" we shouted out to each other, though we all saw and felt it plain enough. There was a last lash of that tail, now faint and scarce rising above the water, but which, a few minutes ago, would have sent every boat round it flying into splinters. Then all was quiet. The mighty mass, now almost inanimate, turned slowly round upon its side, and then it floated belly up and dead.

Our triumph was complete. Loud shouts rent the air. "Hurra, my lads, hurra! we've killed our first fish well," shouted the excited chief mate, who had likewise had the honour of being the first to strike the first fish. "She's above eleven feet if she's an inch," (speaking of the length of the longest lamina of whalebone); "she'll prove a good prize, that she will." He was right. I believe that one fish filled forty-seven butts with blubber—enough, in days of yore, I have heard, to have repaid the whole expense of the voyage.

Our ship was some way to leeward; and as the wind was light, she could not work up to us, so we had to tow the prize down to her. Our first operation was to free it from the lines. This was done by first lashing the tail, by means of holes cut through it, to the bows of a boat, and then two boats swept round it, each with the end of a line, the centre of which was allowed to sink under the fish. As the lines hung down perpendicularly, they were thus brought up and cut as close as possible down to the harpoons, which were left sticking in the back of the fish. Meantime the men of the other boats were engaged in lashing the fins together across the belly of the whale. This being done, we all formed in line, towing the fish by the tail; and never have I heard or given a more joyous shout than ours, as we pulled cheerily away, at the rate of a mile an hour, towards the ship with our first fish.


A cookery-book, in the possession of my good mother, advises one to catch one's hare before cooking it. On the same principle I deferred describing how a whale is disposed of till I had seen one caught; for I have heard that it is possible for a ship to return clean, or without having caught a single whale; and this might possibly, I feared, be our case. Every one on board, from the captain downwards, was now in good spirits.

We had got a fish; but it was necessary to secure it carefully alongside, lest it might sink even there, and be lost after all our trouble—such misfortunes having occurred to careless fishers. The first thing we did was to secure at the stern of the ship, on the larboard side, a tackle, which is called a nose tackle, from its being fastened to the nose or head of the fish. A tail tackle was secured to the tail of the fish, and this was brought on board at the fore-chains. Thus the head of the fish was towards the stern of the ship, and the tail towards the bows, the body being extended as much as possible. The right side fin, which was next the ship (it being remembered that the whale was on its back), was then lashed upwards towards the gunwale.

To "cant" or "kent," in nautical phraseology, is to turn over or on one side. The tackle, therefore, composed of many turns of ropes and blocks, which turns the whale over as the blubber is cut off, is called the "kent purchase" or tackle. One part was fastened to the neck of the whale, or rather the part of the body next the head—for a whale, even in courtesy, cannot be said to have a neck—and the other was tied to the head of the main-mast, the fall being passed round the windlass. The neck, or rather the part which would be the neck if it had one, is called the "kent."

From the size of the whale, it was impossible to lift it more than one-fifth part out of the water; and this was only done after heaving away at the windlass. Till this operation was performed, not one of us had rested from our labours.

"Knock off, my lads, and turn-to to breakfast," sung out the master in a cheerful tone. The order was obeyed with right good-will; and perhaps never did a more hungry crew of fishermen sit down to a more jovial meal. Breakfast was soon over, and, strengthened and refreshed, we prepared to turn-to at our task.

On going on deck again, I found that our booty had attracted round us many birds and fish of all descriptions, ready to prey on what we should leave. There were fulmars in thousands, eager to pounce down upon the morsels which they knew would be their share. They were of a dirty grey colour, with white breasts and strong crooked bills, formed to tear flesh easily, and able to give a very severe bite. Then there were numbers of the arctic gull, who may be considered the pirate of the icy regions, as he robs most other birds, not only of their prey, but of their eggs and young. The sea-swallow, or great tern, however, like an armed ship of size, bravely defends himself, and often beats off his antagonist; while the burgomaster a large and powerful bird, may be looked upon as a ship of war, before whom even the sea-swallow flies away, or is compelled to deliver up his prize. There were a few also of the ivory gull, a beautiful bird of immaculate whiteness. They are so timid that they dare not rest on the whale, but fly down, and while fluttering over it, tear off small bits, and are off again before the dreaded burgomaster can come near them.

But now to our prize. First, the harpooners secured to their feet what we called spurs, that is, spikes of iron, to prevent them from slipping off the back of the whale, on which they now descended. I and three other youngsters were meantime ordered to get into two of the boats, into which were thrown the blubber-knives and spades, bone-knives, and other instruments used in the operation in which they were about to engage.

Our duty was to keep alongside the whale, to hand them what they required, and to pick any one up who should by chance fall into the water. The specksioneer, or chief harpooner, took post in the centre of the rest to direct them. The fat is, as it were, a casing on the outside of the whale, so that it can easily be got at. With their blubber-knives the men then cut it into oblong pieces, just as a fish is cut across at table; and with their spades they lifted it from the flesh and bones, performing the same work on a larger scale that the fish-knife does. To the end thus first lifted a strap and tackle is fastened, called the "speck-tackle," by which those on deck haul it up. This operation is called "flensing."

As the huge mass is turned round and round by the kent-tackle, the harpooners continue cutting off the slips, till the whole coat of fat is removed. The fins and tail are also cut off; and, lastly, the whale-bone is cut out of the mouth. The whale-bone is placed in two rows in the mouth, and is used instead of teeth, to masticate the food, and to catch the minute animals floating in the water on which it feeds. Each side of bone consists of upwards of three hundred laminae, the interior edges of which are covered with a fringe of hair. Ten or twelve feet is the average size. In young whales, called "suckers," it is only a few inches long. When it is above six feet, the whale is said to be of size, a term I have before used.

The tongue of the whale is very large; it has a beard, and a very narrow throat. While I was handing a blubber-spade to old David, as I looked over the side of the boat, I saw a pair of bright green eyes glancing up at me with such a knowing, wicked look, that I drew back with a shudder, thinking it was some uncommon monster of the deep, who was watching for an opportunity to carry one of us off.

"What is it now, youngster? Have you bit your nose?" asked David, laughing.

"No," I replied breathlessly. "Look there—what is that?" I pointed out the eyes, which were still glaring up at me.

"That—why that, my green lad, is only a blind shark. Have not you ever seen one of them before?"

"Only a shark!" I exclaimed with horror, remembering all I had heard about sharks. "Won't he eat one?"

"No, not he; but just run a boat-hook into him, and try and drive him away, for he's drawing five shillings' worth of oil out of the fish every mouthful he takes, the glutton," said David.

I did as I was desired; but though the point ran right into his body, he only shifted his post a little, and made a fresh attack directly under the stern of the boat. I again wounded him; but he was either so engaged with gorging himself, or so insensible to pain, that he continued with his nose against the side of the whale, eating away as before.

I afterwards learned that this Greenland shark is not really blind, though the sailors think so because it shows no fear at the sight of man. The pupil of the eye is emerald green; the rest of it is blue, with a white worm-shaped substance on the outside. This one was upwards of ten feet in length, and in form like a dog-fish. It is a great foe to the whale, biting and annoying him even when alive; and by means of its peculiarly-shaped mouth and teeth it can scoop out of its body pieces as large as a man's head.

But the most persevering visitors during the operation of flensing were the sailors' little friends the Mollies. The moment the fish was struck they had begun to assemble, and they were now pecking and tearing away at the flesh with the greatest impudence, even among the men's long knives. One at last got between David's legs, which so tried his patience, that he took it up and flung it from him with a hearty shake, abusing it for running the risk of being hurt; just as a cab-driver does a child for getting into the road, without the slightest idea of injuring it. But the Molly would not take the hint, and with the greatest coolness returned to its repast, thinking, probably, that it had as much right to its share as we had to ours.

The Mollies do not evince an amiable disposition towards each other; and as the "krang" (such is the name given to the refuse parts of the whale) is cut off, they were to be seen sitting on the water by thousands tearing at the floating pieces, and when one morsel seemed more tempting than another, driving their weaker brethren away from it, and fighting over it as if the sea was not covered with other bits equally good. All the time the noise they made "poultering" down in the water, and quacking or cackling—I do not know which to call it—was most deafening.

My good friend Andrew pointed them out to me. He never lost an opportunity of giving me a useful lesson. "There," he said, "that's the way of the world. We are never content with what we have got, but must fight to gain something else. Now take my advice, Peter. Do your duty as a man; and when you light upon a piece of krang, stick to it, and be thankful that you've found it." I have never since been in a noisy, quarrelsome crowd, that I did not think of the Mollies and the krang.

I must not forget the green-eyed monster which had so startled me. The surgeon had got a hook ready, covered by a piece of blubber; and letting it fall quietly over the stern before its nose, the bait was instantly gorged. To hook a fish of ten feet long, and to get him on board, are two different things; and our good medico was very nearly drawn overboard in a vain attempt to do the latter without assistance, which, just then, all hands on board were too much engaged to afford. The line was very strong, or the shark would have broken it, as now, finding himself hooked, he had sense enough to struggle violently in order to get free.

I must confess that, when I came on deck after the krang had been cast adrift, I was not sorry to see my friend in that condition. After some trouble we got the bight of a rope over his head, and another round his tail, and hoisted him on deck. If a cat has nine lives, a Greenland shark may be said to have ninety. We cut him on the head and tail with hatchets, and knocked out any brains he might have possessed, and still he would not die. At last the surgeon cut him up, and hours after each individual piece seemed to have life remaining in it.

Sometimes when the tackles are removed the carcase of the whale sinks, and the fish at the bottom are alone the better for it; but at other times, as in this case, it floats, and not only the birds and sharks, but the bears find a hearty meal off it. This krang floated away; and afterwards, as I shall have presently to relate, was the source of much amusement. I ought to have said, that while the harpooners were flensing the whale, another division of the crew were employed in receiving it on deck, in pieces of half a ton each, while others cut it into portable pieces of about a foot square; and a third set passed it down a hole in the main hatches to between decks, where it was received by two men, styled kings, who stowed it away in a receptacle called the "flense gut." Here it remained till there was time for "making off."

Having now got our prize on board, the owners being probably 500 pounds richer, should we reach home in safety, than they were a few hours before, we set to work to make off the blubber, that is, to stow it away in the casks in the hold. For this purpose we ran out some miles from the ice, in smooth water, and hove to, with just sufficient sail set to steady the ship. While the skee-man—the officer who has charge of the hold—the cooper, and a few others, were breaking out the hold, that is, getting at the ground or lowest tier of casks, we on deck were arranging the speck-trough, and other apparatus required for preparing the blubber.

The speck-trough is an oblong box, with a lid, about twelve feet in length. The lid, when thrown back, forms a chopping-table; and it is covered with bits of whale's tail from end to end, which, being elastic, though hard, prevents the knives being blunted. In the middle of the trough is a square hole, which is placed over the hatchway; and to the hole is attached a hose or pipe of canvas, leading into the hold, and movable, so as to be placed over the bungs of each cask. A pair of nippers embrace it, so as to stop the blubber from running down when no cask is under.

The krang is the refuse, as I have said, and the men who separate the oily part from it are called "krangers." The "kings" throw the blubber in rough out of the "flense gut" to the "krangers" on deck; from them it is passed to the harpooners, who are the skinners. After the skin has been sliced off, it is placed on the chopping-block, before which stand in a row the boat-steerers, who with their long knives cut it up into oblong pieces not larger than four inches in diameter, and then push it into the speck-trough.

The line-managers are stationed in the hold, and guide the tube or lull to the casks they desire to fill. Finally, when no more can fall in, piece after piece is jambed in by a pricker, and the cask is bunged up. Sometimes not only are all the casks on board filled, but the blubber is stowed away in bulk in the hold, and even between decks; but this good fortune does not often occur.

It will be seen by any one who has read an account, that the process of preparing the cargo by the whalers in the southern seas is very different. Andrew Thompson had once been in a South Sea whaler, and he told me he never wished to go in another; for a wilder, more mutinous set of fellows it was never his ill-luck, before or since, to meet. This was, of course, owing partly to the captain, who was a rough, uncultivated savage, and totally unfit to gain any moral restraint over his men.

"I'll tell you what it is, Peter," said Andrew, as I sat by him in the forecastle that evening, listening to his yarns, "till the masters are properly educated, and know how to behave like officers and gentlemen, the men will be mutinous and ill-conducted. When I say like gentlemen, I don't mean that they should eat with silver forks off china, drink claret, and use white pocket-handkerchiefs. Those things don't make the gentleman afloat more than on shore. But what I like to see, is a man who treats his crew with proper gentleness, who looks after their interest in this world and the next, and tries to improve them to the best of his power—who acts, indeed, as a true Christian will act—that man is, I say, a gentleman. I say, put him where you will, ask him to do what you will, he will look and act like a gentleman. Who would dare to say that our good captain is not one? He looks like one, and acts like one, at all times and occasions; and if we had many more like him in the merchant service generally, we should soon have an improvement in the condition of our seamen.

"But I have got adrift from what I was going to tell you about the South Sea whalers. You see, the whales in those seas are generally sperm-whales, with blunt bottle-noses, altogether unlike the fish about here. There is not much difference in the way of killing them, except that one has not to go among the ice for them, in the way we have here, as they are met with in 'schools' in the open sea. What we call 'making-off' is there called 'trying-out.'

"You see, on account of the hot climates they have to come through to return home, and partly from the value of the blubber, they have to boil it to get out the oil; and for this object they have to build large stoves or fire-places with brick on deck, between the fore-mast and main hatchway; and above them are three or four large pots. The blubber is then, you see, minced up, and pitched into the pots with long forks. Just fancy what a curious scene there must be while the trying-out is going on at night—the red glare of the fires, and the thick lurid smoke ascending in dense columns round the masts! Any one, not knowing what was going forward, would think, to a certainty, the ship was on fire; and then the stench of the boiling oil, hissing and bubbling in the pots—the suffocating feel of the smoke—the fierce-looking, greasy, unwashed men—I say, those who have been in a South Sea whaler will never wish to go again."

I told him that I had no wish, after his description, ever to belong to one, though I liked the life, as far as I had seen of it, where I was.

"I have not a word to say against it, mate," replied Andrew. "But wait a bit till we come to boring and cutting through the ice, in case we are beset, and then you'll say that there is something like hard work to be done."

It took us two hours to kill our first whale, and four to flense it. We afterwards performed the last operation in less time, when all hands were more expert.

The next morning we again stood in towards the ice, to see if there was any opening through which we might force the ship, but none appeared. What was curious, we hit the spot to which the krang of the fish we had killed the day before had floated. We saw something moving on the ice, as we approached, besides the clouds of wild-fowl which hovered over it, and on the sea around.

We pointed it out to the second mate. He took his glass, and, putting it to his eye, exclaimed, "There's a big white bear has just been breakfasting, and has hauled up some of the krang on the ice, to serve him for dinner; but we'll try what we can do to spoil his sport."

In accordance with this resolution, he went to the captain and asked leave to take a boat to try and bring back Bruin, dead or alive.

"You may bring him back dead, but alive you'll never get him into that boat, depend on it," answered Captain Rendall, laughing. "However, take care he is not too much for you; for those bears are cunning fellows, remember; and I should advise you to take a couple of muskets, and some tough lances."

"Never fear, sir," answered the mate, preparing to lower a boat. "I don't think a boat's crew need, any day, be afraid of a single bear."

Volunteers being asked for, Terence and I, old David and Stokes, and three others, jumped into the boat, and pulled off towards where the bear was seated quietly licking his paws after his meal. The mate had a great idea of noosing him; and for this purpose he and David were each armed with a coil of rope, with a bight to throw over his head, like a lasso, while Terence and I were to take charge of the guns. The mate first made us put him on the ice some few hundred yards on one side of the bear, and then we pulled round to the same distance on the other. Each had a lance besides his lasso, and the mate had a pistol in his belt.

In case of extreme necessity, Terence and I were to fire, and then to land and come to their rescue. As soon as the two had landed, they began to move away from the edge, hoping thereby to cut Bruin off should he attempt to escape. He had, however, no inclination to leave his dinner; though, perhaps, had he not already eaten to repletion, he would not have sat so quiet while we approached.

We meantime pulled close up to the krang, among all the ducks and gulls. This Bruin did not mind, but sat still, looking quietly on. Of course I could then easily have shot him; but that was not the mate's object. All he did was to growl and show his teeth, as if he longed to have us all within his paws. This made us bolder and less cautious, so we got close up to him.

"We are still too far for me to heave the bight over his shoulders," cried Terence. "Just see if you can't get hold of his dinner with the boat-hook, and that will bring him nearer."

I luckily held my gun in my left hand, while with my right, as I sprang on the ice, I attempted to catch hold of the whale's flesh with the boat-hook. This was too much for the equanimity even of Bruin, and with a loud growl he sprang towards the boat, happily thinking me too insignificant for punishment. I immediately ran off towards the mate; while so great was the impetus which the bear had gained, that he went head-foremost into the water, just catching the gunwale of the boat as the men in her tried to shove off to avoid him.

Terence seized his musket, but it missed fire; and before either of the others could get their lances ready, Bruin had actually scrambled on board. No one can be surprised at their fright, nor that, as the bear came in on one side, they should jump out on the other. They were all good swimmers, so they struck out for the ice, on to which the mate and I hauled them, while Bruin floated away in our boat.

We thought he would have jumped out again, and attacked us: but he seemed perfectly content with his victory, and inclined for a cruise, as he sat, with the greatest composure, examining the different articles in the boat. How long he might have sat there I do not know, had not the mate ordered me to try my skill as a shot. It was a long time since I had had a gun in my hand, and my ambition was roused. I took a steady aim at poor Bruin's eye, and he sunk down in the bottom of the boat.

The whole occurrence had been seen from the ship by our captain, who despatched a boat to our assistance. We stood meantime, looking very foolish, on the ice; and those who had been in the water shivering not a little with the cold. After the boat had taken us on board, we pulled towards ours, with the bear in it. We half-expected to see him jump up, and, seizing the oars, pull away from us. Terence declared that he knew a man who said that such a thing had once happened, and that the bear, after a chase of many miles, got clean off with the boat; and that next year, about the same latitude, he was seen cruising about by himself, fishing for seals.

However, we got cautiously up to our boat; and there lay Bruin, breathing out his last. By the time we got alongside, he was quite dead. We all, especially the mate, got well laughed at for having had our boat captured by a bear.

"And so, Mr Derrick," said the captain, "a boat's crew can possibly be beaten by a bear, I see."

"They can, sir," answered the mate; "I own it; but if you'll remember, you said I should never get that bear into the boat, alive or dead, and I've done both."

"Not that," replied the captain. "He got himself in, and he got you out; so I don't see that you've fulfilled your promise."

However, Bruin was hoisted on board, and the mate secured his skin, which was what he wanted. Of course the adventure caused much joking afterwards, and the boat was ever afterwards called "the bear's boat."


For several days, during which we captured another whale, we were cruising about, in the hopes of finding a passage through the ice. We were now joined by a squadron of six other ships, all bent on the same object that we were, to find our way across Baffin's Bay to a spot called Pond's Bay, which has been found, of late years, to be frequented by a large number of whales.

I have before forgot to mention the great length of the days; indeed, for some time past there had scarcely been any night. Now, for the first time in my life, I saw the sun set and rise at midnight. It was my first watch; and, as eight bells were struck, the sun, floating majestically on the horizon, began again its upward course through the sky. On the other side the whole sky was tinged with a rich pink glow, while the sky above was of a deep clear blue. I could scarcely tear myself from the spectacle, till old David laughed heartily at me for remaining on deck when it was my watch below. Now was the time to push onward, if we could once penetrate the ice. We had worked our way to the east, in the hopes of there finding a passage.

"Land on the starboard bow!" shouted the second mate from the crow's-nest. Still on we sailed, till we saw it clearly from the deck. Lofty black rocks were peeping out from amid snow-capped heights, and eternal glaciers glittering in the sunbeams. In the foreground were icebergs tinged with many varied hues. Deep valleys appeared running up far inland; and above all, in the distance, were a succession of towering mountain ranges, reaching to the sky. Still on we sailed.

"Well, lad, how long do you think it would take you to pull on shore now?" asked old David.

"Better than half-an-hour, in a whale-boat, with a good crew," I answered, thinking the distance was about four or five miles.

The old whaler chuckled, in the way he always did when he had got, what he called, the weather-gauge of me.

"Now I tell you it would take you three good hours, with the best crew that ever laid hand on oar, and the fastest boat, too, to get from this ship to that shore."

"Come now, David, you are passing your jokes off on a greenhorn," I replied. "Why, if the water was not cold, I don't think I should find much difficulty in swimming there, when we got a little closer in."

This answer produced a fresh succession of chuckles. Still on we sailed; and I confess that at the end of an hour we appeared no nearer than before.

"Well, what do you think of it now?" asked old David.

"Why, that there must be a strong current against us, setting off shore," I answered, wishing to show my knowledge.

He replied that there was no current, and that I was wrong. Another half-hour passed, and still we did not seem to have gained ground.

"What do you think of our being off Cape Flyaway, youngster?" asked David, pretending to be alarmed. "Did you never hear speak of that? The longer you sail after it the farther off it goes, till it takes you right round the world. If that's it, and I don't say it isn't, it will be long enough before we get back to old England again." Having thus delivered himself, he walked away, to avoid being questioned.

Tom Stokes, who was near me, and, as I have said, was very fond of reading, heard his remark.

"Do you know, Peter, I am not certain that what David says is altogether wrong," he remarked, in a mysterious manner. "I have just been reading in a book an account of a voyage made many centuries ago by a Danish captain to these seas. His name was Rink, but I forget the name of the ship. His crew consisted of eighty stout brave fellows; but when they got up here, some of the bravest were frightened with the wonders they beheld—the monsters of the deep, the fogs, the snows, and the mountains of ice—and at last they saw at no great distance a high picturesque land on which they wished to land, but though they sailed rapidly on, or appeared to sail, they got no nearer to it. This increased the alarm they already felt. One-half of the crew were of opinion that the land itself moved away from them; the others that there were some powerful loadstone rocks somewhere astern, which kept the ship back. At last Captain Rink finding a northerly breeze spring up, and being somewhat short of provisions, put up the helm and ran home, every one on board giving a different account of the wonders they had seen, but all agreeing that it was a region of ice-demons and snow-spirits, and that they would never, if they could help it, venture there again."

For some hours we continued much of Captain Rink's opinion, till at last I had an opportunity of asking Andrew what he thought about the matter. He then told me that, on account of the clearness of the atmosphere, and the brightness of the snow-covered hills or icy plains, they appear to a person unaccustomed to look on them to be very much nearer than they really are. He assured me that it would be a long time before I should be able to judge of distances; and that he had known a person mistake a few stunted shrubs appearing above the snow a few yards off for a forest in the distance, while land many miles off appeared, as it had to me, close at hand.

It was evening, or I should rather say near midnight, when we really got close in, when we found that the valleys were magnificent fiords, or gulfs running far inland, and that the rocks and icebergs were of vast height. As we sailed along the coast, nothing could be more beautiful than the different effects of light and shade—the summits of the distant inland ranges shining in the sunlight like masses of gold, and the icebergs in the foreground tinged with the most beautiful and dazzling colours.

Beautiful as was the scene, I had no idea that any civilised beings dwelt in such a region of eternal snows. What was my surprise, then, to find the ship brought to an anchor off a small town called Leifly, belonging to the Danes! They have several small colonies along the coast, at each of which are stationed missionaries engaged in the pious work of converting the Esquimaux to Christianity.

I thought that where we lay at anchor was directly under the overhanging cliffs; but I found, from the time the boat took reaching the shore, that we were several miles off. Several Esquimaux canoes came off to the ship to barter with us. One man sits in each boat, which is so long and narrow, that one is surprised it should be able to encounter the slightest sea. The whole is decked over, except a round opening, in which they seat themselves.

All these people were Christians; and in each canoe was a strip of paper stuck in a thong under the deck, on which were written, in Danish, passages from the Scriptures. They were comfortably dressed in sealskin coats, trousers, and boots, with a sealskin helmet. Their heads were large, with a narrow, retreating forehead; strong, coarse black hair, flat nose, full lips, almost beardless chin, and full lustrous black eyes—not beauties, certainly, but the expression was very amiable, and so was their conduct.

We had to lower a boat to assist them on deck when they came alongside, for otherwise they would not have been able to get out of their crank barks without capsizing. The way they manage is as follows:—Two canoes bring up alongside each other, the man in the outer one passing his paddle through a thong which stretches across the deck of the inner one, which it thus steadies till the owner can get out. The inner canoe is then hauled out of the way, and another pulls up on the outside. The last canoe is held by the gunwale till the occupant steps out. They all appeared ready to render each other this assistance. The canoe is called a "kajack."

The kajacks being hauled on deck, we began our barter. We had to give old clothes, red and yellow cotton handkerchiefs, biscuits, coffee, earthenware bowls, needles, and many other little things; for which they exchanged sealskins, sealskin trousers, caps, slippers, gloves, and tobacco-bags. These articles were very neatly sewed with sinew thread. Our negotiations being completed in the most amicable manner, they took their departure much in the way in which they had arrived.

I afterwards went ashore in the boat, and saw their huts, which were better, I am ashamed to say, than many I had seen in Ireland. Many of them were nearly built of the bones of the whale, which had an odd appearance. There were heaps of filth in front, and troops of ill-favoured dogs were prowling about them.

I saw some of their women, the elder ones being the most hideous-looking of the human race I ever beheld. They wore their hair gathered in a large knot at the top of the head; but in other respects they were dressed exactly like the men, in sealskin garments. Whatever business took us there was soon completed; and once more, in company with several other ships, we commenced our struggle with the ice-monsters of the deep. Our course was still northerly, as what is called the "middle ice" fills up the centre of the bay in impenetrable masses; and it is only by working round it to the north, where it has drifted away from the coast, that a passage to the west side can be effected.

Soon after sailing, we were frozen into a sheet of bay ice for some days. It was slight, and in many places could scarcely bear the weight of a man. Indeed, there were in every direction pools of water, which for some reason or other did not freeze. Our captain had been for some time in the crow's-nest, looking out for a sign of the breaking up of the ice, when he observed several whales rising in the pools. He instantly ordered the smaller boats to be lowered, and worked through and over the ice to the pools, with harpooners ready to strike any whale which might rise in them. Meantime he armed himself with a harpoon, and ordered others to follow with lances, each with ice-shoes on his feet.

The first man carried the end of a line, and the rest laid hold of it at intervals; so that, should any fall in, they might be able to draw themselves out again. We had not long to wait before a whale was struck, and out flew the line from the boat. So thin was the ice, that we could see the monster through it, as he swam along close under it. Away he went; but, losing breath, he knocked a hole in the ice with his head, to get some fresh air. We followed, but at first he was too quick for us, and had dived again before we came up with him.

We had to look out to avoid the place he had broken as we made chase after him. Our captain took the lead without a rope, going at a great rate in his snow-shoes. He saw the whale close under him, and had just got his harpoon ready to strike through the ice, when up came the fish under the very spot where he stood, and we saw him skip off in a tremendous hurry, or he to a certainty would have gone in, and perhaps have been drawn down when the whale started off again.

Instead of this, he boldly went to the very edge of the ice, and while the whale was blowing, he darted his harpoon deep into his neck. The whale continued his course, but so much slower than before, that we got up to him, and striking our lances through the ice whenever he touched it, we soon despatched him. As he had no means of breathing under the ice, he died quietly, and was dragged up by the line of the first harpoon which struck him; and, by breaking the ice so as to let the line pass, he was hauled up to the ship.

Scarcely was the first secured than a second one was struck, and away we went after him, hallooing, shouting, and laughing. The first man was a little fellow, though, I believe, he cracked the ice. At all events, we had not gone a hundred yards when in fell three men, one after the other; but they did not mind, and by means of the rope they were soon out again, and in chase of our prey.

Poor Stokes got in twice, and I once, to the great amusement of the rest; however, very few escaped without a wetting, so that the laugh was not entirely against us. We succeeded in killing the fish, and I do not know whether it was not as exciting as chasing him in the water; at all events there was more fun and novelty, and that is what a sailor likes.

A fair breeze at length sprung up, which, bringing warmer weather, and enabling us to spread our canvas with effect, we cut away the ice round the ship, and then she, with her strong bows, forced a passage through it. While the wind lasted, with every yard of canvas alow and aloft the ship could carry, we pressed our onward way—sometimes among floes, threatening every instant to close in and nip us; at other times with drift and brash-ice surrounding us; and at others amid open ice, with here and there floating icebergs appearing near us.

To one of these we had to moor, on account of a shift of wind, which blew strong in our teeth; and at first, when I turned into my berth, I did not sleep as securely as usual, from remembering Andrew's account of one toppling over and crushing a ship beneath it. However, I need scarcely say that that feeling very soon wore off. The objects gained by mooring to an iceberg are several. In the first place, from so large a proportion of the mass being below the water, the wind has little effect on it, and therefore the ship loses no ground; then it shields her from the drift-ice as it passes by, and she has also smooth water under its lee. Casting off from the iceberg, as did our consorts from those to which they had been moored, when the wind again became favourable, we continued our course.

We were now approaching the most dangerous part of our voyage, the passage across Melville Bay, which may be considered the north-eastern corner of Baffin's Bay. Ships may be sailing among open ice, when, a south-westerly wind springing up, it may suddenly be pressed down upon them with irresistible force, and they may be nipped or totally destroyed.

All this I learned from old David, who was once here when upwards of twelve ships were lost in sight of each other, though the crews escaped by leaping on the ice.

"Remember, youngster, such may be our fate one of these days; and we shall be fortunate if we have another ship at hand to take us on board," he remarked.

I never knew whether he uttered this not over-consolatory observation for my benefit, to remind me how, at any moment, the lives of us all might be brought to an end, or to amuse himself by watching its effect on me.

For a week we threaded our way among the open floes, when a solid field seemed to stop our further progress. This had been seen hours before, from the unbroken ice-blink playing over it. Our captain was in the crow's-nest, looking out for a lane through which the ship might pass till clear water was gained. After waiting, and sailing along the edge of the field for some time, some clear water was discovered at the distance of three or four miles, and to it our captain determined that we should cut our way. The ice-saws were accordingly ordered, to be got ready, with a party to work them, on the ice. I was one of them; and, while we cut the canal, the ship was warped up, ready to enter the space we formed.

The ice-saw is a very long iron saw, and has a weight attached to the lower end. A triangle of spars is formed, with a block in the centre, through which a rope, attached to the upper part of the saw, is rove. The slack end of the rope is held by a party of men. When they run away from the triangle, the saw rises, and when they slack the rope, the weight draws it down, as the sawyer in a sawpit would do. As the saw performs its work, the triangles are moved from the edge of the ice. As the pieces were cut, they were towed away, and shoved along to the mouth of the canal.

All the time we were at work, some of the men with good voices led a song, in the chorus of which we all joined; and I must say we worked away with a will. It was harder work when we had to haul out the bits of ice, the ship being towed into the canal. With a cheerful shout we completed our canal, and got the ships into a natural lane; and the rest following close upon our track, we worked our way along for many miles, by what is called tracking.

This operation is very similar to the way a canal-boat is dragged along a canal through the green fields of England, only that men have, in the case I am describing, to do the work of horses. A tow-rope was made fast to the fore-mast, and about a third of each ship's company were ordered to drag their respective ship ahead. Away we went, as usual, with song and laughter, tramping along the ice for miles together, and towing our homes, like snails, after us.

For several days we continued the same work; and afterwards, when we got out of the lanes, and the ice was found broken, or so irregular that it was impossible to walk over it, we had to carry out ice-claws, or what may be called ice-kedges, to warp the ship ahead. The ice-claws grappled hold of the ice, and the warp being then carried round the capstan, or windlass, we hove in on it, just as if we were heaving up an anchor, only that this work continued for hour after hour, and days and nights in succession, without intermission.

Ten days passed away much in the manner I have described. We then got into comparatively clear water for a few hours, during which time the other ships joined us. As there was no wind, we had to tow the ship ahead in the boats, so that there was no cessation of our labours.

"Well," I exclaimed to old David, "I suppose after all this we shall soon get into an open sea again."

"Don't be too sure of that, or of anything else, lad," he answered. "We have not yet got into the thick of it, let me tell you."

I found that his words were too true. The boats had been hoisted in, for a breeze had sprung up, and we were progressing favourably, when we came to some large floes. The openings between them were wide, and without hesitation we proceeded through them. On a sudden these vast masses were seen in motion, slowly moving round and round, without any apparent cause. The captain hailed from the crow's-nest, ordering the ice-saws to be got ready, and the ship to be steered towards one of the largest floes close on the larboard bow. The sails were clewed up, and the ice-claws being carried out, the ship was hauled close up to it; and while the captain and carpenters were measuring out a dock, a party, of which I was one, set to work with the saws.

There was no time to be lost. A moment too late, and our stout ship might be cracked like a walnut, and we might all be cast homeless on the bleak expanse of ice to perish miserably. The floes were approaching rapidly, grinding and crushing against one another, now overlapping each other; or, like wild horses fighting desperately, rearing up against each other, and with terrific roar breaking into huge fragments.

"Bear a hand, my lads; bear a hand, that's good fellows. We'll not be nipped this time if we can help it," sung out the officers in a cheering tone to encourage us, though the anxious looks they cast towards the approaching masses showed that their confidence was more assumed than real.

Whatever we thought, we worked and sung away as if we were engaged in one of the ordinary occupations of life, and that, though we were in a hurry, there was no danger to be apprehended. The dock was cut long-wise into the ice the length of the ship, which was to be hauled in stern first. As there was every appearance of a heavy pressure, the ice at the inner part of the dock was cut into diamond-shaped pieces, so that, when the approaching floe should press on the bows, the vessel might sustain the pressure with greater ease, by either driving the pieces on to the ice, or rising over them.

The crews of all the other ships were engaged in the same way, but, as may be supposed, we had little time to attend to them. Our captain was engaged in superintending our operations; but I saw him cast many an anxious glance towards our advancing foes.

For an instant, he ran to the side of the ship and hailed the deck. "Mr Todd," he said, "it will be as well to get some casks of provisions, the men's clothes, and a few spare sails for tents, and such-like things, you know, ready on deck, in case the nip should come before we can get into dock."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered the mate, not a bit disconcerted; and with the few hands remaining on board he set about obeying our commander's somewhat ominous directions.

I ought to have said that the rudder had at the first been unshipped and slung across the stern, as it stands to reason that when pressed against by the ice it should be the first thing injured. Still we worked away. We had begun to saw the loose pieces at the head of the dock.

"Hurra, my lads! knock off, and bear a hand to haul her in," shouted out the captain; "no time to be lost."

With a right good will we laid hold of the warps, and towing and fending off the ship's bows from the outer edge of the ice, we got her safely into the dock. We then set to work to cut up the pieces. We completed our labours not a moment too soon; for before we had got on board again, the tumult, which had been long raging in the distance, came with increased fury around us, and we had reason to be grateful to Heaven that we were placed in a situation of comparative safety.


We were safe—so the old hands said; but it required some time before one could fully persuade one's self of the fact. Not only were the neighbouring floes in motion, but even the one in which we were fixed. Rushing together with irresistible force, they were crushing and grinding in every direction, with a noise far more terrific than that of thunder.

The ship meantime, notwithstanding all our precautions, was driven back before the force opposed to her; and had it not been for the loose pieces under her stern, she might have been nipped in the most dangerous manner. One might fancy that the floes were pitted to try their strength against each other, though it would have been difficult to decide which was the victor.

I had read descriptions of earthquakes, and the commotion reminded me of them. Those who have crossed a large frozen pond or lake will remember the peculiar noise which even stout ice makes when trod on for the first time. Fancy this noise increased a thousand-fold, thundering under one's feet, and then booming away till the sound is lost in the almost interminable distance! Then the field began to tremble, and slowly rise, and then to rend and rift with a sullen roar, and mighty blocks were hove up, one upon another, till a rampart, bristling with huge fragments, was formed close around the ship, threatening her with destruction.

It seemed like the work of magic; for where lately there was a wide expanse of ice, intersected with lanes of clear water, there was now a country, as it were, covered with hills and rocks, rising in every fantastic shape, and valleys full of stones scattered in every direction.

In several places large misshapen masses had been forced up in a perpendicular position, while others had been balanced on their summits so evenly, that the slightest touch was sufficient to send them thundering down on either side.

Our own safety being provided for, we had time to look after our consorts. Most of them had managed, as we had done, to get into docks; but one, which had taken a more southerly course, appeared to heel over on one side, and to be in a most perilous condition.

The weather, which during the commotion had been very thick, now for an instant clearing in the direction where she lay, the first mate ascended with his glass to the crow's-nest, and on coming on deck he reported that the Arctic Swan seemed a complete wreck, and that the boats and the men's chests were scattered about round her, as if thrown on the ice in a great hurry.

"I fear it's a very bad case, sir; and if you'll give me leave, I'll take a party and see what help we can afford them," said Mr Todd to the captain.

Seamen are always anxious to render assistance to those in peril; and Captain Rendall having given his permission, plenty of volunteers were found ready for the somewhat hazardous expedition. I was one of them. The risk was, that during our absence the ice might begin to take off; and that we should be separated from the ship, and be left among the heaving and tumbling masses of ice. Of this probably the captain had not much fear, or he would not have allowed us to go.

To assist our return, and also to enable us to rescue any of the crew of the wreck who might be injured, the stern boat was lowered that we might track her up to them. Mr Todd, three other men, and I, formed the party. Away we went towards the ship, dragging our boat with no little difficulty among the hummocks and masses, with some risk of the blocks toppling down on our heads and crushing us.

As we drew nearer the Arctic Swan, an exclamation from the mate made us look up at her. "There they go," he cried; "I feared so—she'll never see old England again."

One mast fell while he was speaking, and the others followed directly after; and one fancied one could hear the crushing in of the ship's sides even at that distance. That, however, was not the case, for the ice had taken but a short time to perform its work of destruction.

When at length we got up to the ship, a scene of ruin presented itself, which, before I saw what ice was, I could scarcely have believed could have been wrought so speedily. Stout as were her timbers, the ice had crushed them at the bows and stern completely in, and grinding them to powder, the floes had actually met through her. Part of her keel and lower works had sunk, but the rest had been forced upwards, and lay a mass of wreck on the summit of the hummocks which had been formed under it.

The stern, by the concussion, incredible as it may seem, had been carried full fifty yards from the rest of the wreck. Two boats only had been saved, the rest had been crushed by the ice before they could be lowered and carried free. A few casks of provisions had been got up on deck beforehand, in case of such an accident happening, and they, with the two boats, were upon the ice.

The crew had escaped with the greatest difficulty—some having gone below to get their bags being nearly caught in the nip and crushed to death. At first their faculties were paralysed with the disaster; for the thick weather prevented them from seeing that any help was near, and they feared that they should have to attempt to escape in the two boats, which, even without provisions, would not have held them all.

British seamen are not addicted to giving way to despair, and their officers soon succeeded in rousing them, and in inducing them to set to work to take measures for their safety. Having stowed away the most portable and nutritious of their provisions in the boats, they began to make a strong raft, to carry those whom the boats could not contain, purposing afterwards, should the ice not break up before, to build a barge out of the fragments of the wreck.

They were so busily employed that they did not see our approach, and a loud shout we gave was the first intimation they had of it. They all started up to see who was so unexpectedly coming to their relief; and then responded to our cheer with a hearty good-will. They at once began lightening the boats, so as to be able to drag them over the ice to our ship; and some of the provisions we took into ours, as well as their clothes.

The master gave a last glance at the wreck of the ship with which he had been entrusted, and with a heavy heart, I doubt not, turned away from her for ever. After taking some food, in the shape of salt pork and biscuit, which we much needed, we commenced our return to the ship. Delay, we all felt, was dangerous; for, should the commotion of the ice recommence before we could regain the ship, we ran a great chance of destruction.

At length, however, after four hours' toil, we accomplished our journey in safety, and the shipwrecked crew were welcomed on board the Shetland Maid. Some persons might say that, after all, they had little to congratulate themselves on, for that the same accident which had happened to them might occur to-morrow to us. Though we were, of course, aware of this, I must say that I do not believe the idea ever troubled any one of us; and we all fully expected to return home in the autumn, notwithstanding the destruction which was, we saw, the lot of so many.

That night in the forecastle there was as much fun and laughter as if we had all come off some pleasant excursion, and our light-hearted guests seemed entirely to have forgotten their losses.

"Well, mates, it is to be hoped none of the other ships has met with the same ill-luck that yours has," said old David. "It will be a wonder if they have not. I mind the time, for it's not long ago, that nineteen fine ships were lost altogether, about here. It was a bad year for the underwriters, and for the owners too, let me tell you. I was on board the Rattler, a fine new ship, when, in company with many others, we were beset, not far from Cape York, by the ice driven in by a strong south-wester.

"Our best chance was to form a line under the lee of the heaviest floe we could pick out; and there, stem and stern touching each other, we waited for what was to come. The gale increased, and forced the floes one over the other, till the heaviest in sight came driving down upon us. The first ship it lifted completely on to the ice; the next was nearly stove in, and many of her timbers were broken; and then, getting more in earnest, it regularly dashed to pieces the four next it got foul of, sending them flying over the ice in every direction.

"We were glad enough to escape with our lives, which we had hard work to do; and then some hundreds of us were turned adrift, not knowing what to do with ourselves. We thought ourselves badly off, but we were many times better than the people of another ship near us. They had made fast to an iceberg, when it toppled right over, and crushed them and the ship to atoms. We were not alone; for not far from us another fleet was destroyed, and altogether we mustered nearly a thousand strong— Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Danes. We built huts, and put up tents; and as we had saved plenty of provisions, and had liquor in abundance, we had a very jolly time of it.

"The Frenchmen had music, you may be sure; so we had dancing and singing to our hearts' content, and were quite sorry when the wind shifted, and, the ice breaking up, we had to separate on board the few ships which escaped wreck."

"I remember that time well," said Alec Garrock, a Shetlander, belonging to our ship. "It was a mercy no lives were lost, either escaping from the ships, or afterwards, when we were living on the ice, and travelling from one station to the other. It seems wonderful to me that I'm alive here, to talk about what once happened to me. The boat I was in had killed a whale in good style; and when we had lashed the fins together, and made it fast to the stern of the boat, we saw that a number of whales were blowing not far off—I ought to say we were close under an iceberg. We, of course, were eager to be among them; and as, you must know, the stern-boat had just before been sent to us with one hand in her with another line, we wanted him to stay by the dead fish. He said he would not—if we liked to go, so would he; but stay there by himself; while sport was going on, he would not.

"At last we resolved to leave the small boat empty, and to take him in ours. To this he agreed. So, making the whale fast to his boat, and securing the boat to the berg, away we pulled, as fast as we could lay our backs to the oars, after a fish we saw blowing near us. Now what I tell you is true, mates. Not thirty fathoms had we pulled, when over toppled the iceberg right down on the boat, and we were nearly swamped with the sea it made. When we pulled back to look for the whale, neither it nor the boat was to be seen. You may fancy what would have become of us if we had been there!"

"There are none of us, to my belief; but have often, if we would but acknowledge it, been mercifully preserved by Providence," observed my friend Andrew.

"I won't speak of what has happened to myself; and Terence, and Peter here. No one will doubt, I hope, but that it was the finger of God directed you to take us off the iceberg; but every day some less remarkable case occurs. A block falls from aloft on the deck, where a moment before we were standing; a musket-ball passes close to one's ear; a topmast is carried away just as we have come off the yard; and fifty other things occur of like nature, and we never think of being grateful for our preservation. Talking of escapes, I once saw a man carried overboard by a line round his ankle as a fish was diving. We all gave him up for lost; but he had a sharp knife in the right-hand pocket of his jacket, and he kept his thoughts about him so well, that before he had got many fathoms down, he managed to stoop and cut the line below his foot, then striking with all his might, he rose to the surface."

"Did you ever hear tell of the Dutchman who had a ride on the back of a whale?" asked David. "He had just struck his harpoon into a fish, when, lifting up her tail, she drove the boat into shatters. He fell on his back, and got hold of his harpoon, his foot at the same time being entangled in the line. Away swam the fish on the top of the water, fortunately for him never thinking of diving. He stood upright all the time, holding on by his right hand, while his left tried in vain to find his knife to cut himself clear. Another boat followed, for the chance of rescuing him; but there appeared but little hope of his being saved, unless he could free himself. Just as the fish was going down, the harpoon shook out, and, jumping off its back, to which he gave a hearty kick, he struck out for the boat, and was picked up when he could swim no more. He is the only man I ever heard of who really has ridden on a whale's back, though there's many a tale told by those who have, which is not true."

"I've been on the back of a live whale more than once," said Garrock. "I mean when we've been fishing among bay ice, and the fish have come up through the holes to breathe. But I was going to say how last season we had a chase after a fish, which gave us more trouble than I ever saw before. It led us a chase for the best part of the day, after it had been struck. It dragged one boat, with twenty lines fast, right under a floe, and then broke away; and when we killed it at last, it had taken out thirty lines, which, as you know, is close upon six miles of line."

Thus yarn after yarn was spun. I do not attempt to give the peculiar phraseology of the speakers; but their stories, which I believe to be perfectly true, may prove interesting. For a whole week we were beset, and some of the green hands began to fancy that we should be blocked up for the winter; but the old ones knew better.

Every day the surface of the ice, where the nip had taken place, was examined with anxious eyes, in the hopes that some sign of its taking off or breaking up might be given. At length the pressure became less, the sound under the ice shrill and sharp, instead of the sullen roar which had before been heard; the fragments which had been cast above others began to glide down and disappear in the chasms which were opening around, and water was seen in a long thin line extending to the northward.

A lane was formed, with a wall of fragments on either side; the lane widened, the fragments rushed into the water, and the captain, from the crow's-nest, ordered the ship to be towed out of dock. The order was cheering to our hearts; and as we had plenty of hands, it was soon executed. All sail was made, and away we flew through the passage, in a hurry to take advantage of it, lest it should again close upon us. We succeeded in getting clear, and soon after were joined by our consorts, which had escaped the nip.

We made the land again to the northward of Cape York, and, when close in, were completely becalmed. The boats of each ship were ordered ahead to tow; and thus we slowly progressed along one of the most picturesque scenes it has ever been my fortune to witness in the arctic regions. The water was of glassy smoothness, the sky of brightest blue, and the atmosphere of perfect transparency; while around floated numberless icebergs of the most beautiful forms, and of dazzling hues, while all around was glancing and glittering beneath a bright and glowing sun.

One berg, I remember, was of enormous size. On the north side it was perpendicular, as if just severed from another; but, as we rounded it on the west, ledge above ledge appeared, each fringed with icicles reaching to the one below, thus forming lines of graceful columns, with a gallery within, appearing as if tinged with emerald-green. The summit was peaked and turreted, and broken into many fantastic forms. On the eastern side a clear arch was seen; and several small cascades fell from ledge to ledge with a trickling sound, and into the water with a gentle splash, which could distinctly be heard as we passed.

It must be remembered that in every direction arose bergs of equal beauty; while in the background were lofty hills covered with snow, tinted of a pinkish hue, and above them, of dazzling whiteness, ranges of eternal glaciers, towering to the sky. I could scarcely have believed that a scene of such enchanting beauty could have existed in the arctic regions, and was inclined to fancy, as I pulled at the oar, that they were rocks of Parian marble and alabaster, and that the galleries and caverns they contained were the abodes of fairies and the guardian spirits of those realms. But avast! what has Peter the Whaler to do with such poetical ideas?

On we worked our way northward. In clear weather, when a good look-out was to be had from the crow's-nest, we were able to make our way among the streams of ice; but in thick weather, when our course could not be marked out, we were sadly delayed.

At last, after keeping a westerly course for a few hours, we broke through all intervening barriers, and once more felt our gallant ship lifting to the buoyant wave of the open sea, or rather what is called the "north water."

The ice, by the warm weather, the currents, and the northerly winds, being driven out of Lancaster Sound and the head of Baffin's Bay to the southward, leaves this part, for most of the summer, free from impediments. In five days after leaving the eastern land, having passed the north of Lancaster Sound, we came off the famous fishing-station of Pond's Bay.


The whole coast, in most places, was lined with a sheet of ice some ten or fifteen miles wide, to the edge of which, in perfectly smooth water, our ship, with many others at various distances, was made fast.

Fancy a day, warm to our feelings as one at the same time of year in England, and an atmosphere of a brilliancy rarely or never seen at home, not a breath of air stirring the glassy surface of the shining ocean; while on the land side lofty mountains stretched away on either side, with the opening of the bay in the centre, the rocks of numberless tints, from the many-coloured lichens growing on them, rising as it were out of a bed of snow still filling the valleys even in midsummer; while mid-way, along the dark frowning crags which formed the coast, hung a wavy line of semi-transparent mist, now tinged with a crimson hue, from the almost horizontal rays of the sun, verging towards midnight.

These objects also, it must be understood, appeared so close at hand, that I could scarcely persuade myself that an easy run across the level ice would not carry me up to them; and yet all the while they were upwards of a dozen miles off.

Most of the watch were "on the bran," that is, were in the boats stationed along the edge of the ice, on the look-out for whales. A few hands only, besides myself, were on deck, taking our fisherman's walk, with our fingers in our pockets, and the watch below were sound asleep in their berths, when Captain Rendall, as was his custom, went aloft before turning in, to take a look-out for fish from his crow's-nest. We watched him eagerly. In a few minutes he hailed the deck, with the joyful news that at about ten miles off there was a whole run of whales, spouting away as fast as they could blow.

On the instant, instead of the silence and tranquillity which had before prevailed, all was now noise, excitement, and hurry. The sleepers tumbled up from below; the harpooners got ready their gear and received their orders from the master; the boats on the bran came alongside, to have their kegs replenished with water, and their tubs with bread, beef, and pork; while the more eager mates ran aloft, to assure themselves of the best direction to take.

In a few minutes five boats were pulling out towards the run, as if the lives of a ship's company depended on our exertions. "Hurra, my lads, hurra! give way," shouted our boat-steerers; and give way we did indeed.

Frequently, as we pulled on, we heard the loud blasts of the narwhals, or sea-unicorns, as they came towards the bay in shoals; and each time I fancied we must be close upon a whale, and that the sport was about to begin, so loud a sound did they make.

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