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The Cruise of the Cachalot

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architecture of the coral was plainly visible through the
brilliantly-clear sea, while, wherever the tiny builders had
raised their fairy domain near the surface, an occasional roller
would crown it with a snowy garland of foam--a dazzling patch of
white against the sapphire sea. Altogether, such a panorama was
spread out at our feet, as we stood gazing from the lofty crow's-
nest, as was worth a year or two of city life to witness. I
could not help pitying my companion, one of the Portuguese
harpooners, who stolidly munched his quid with no eyes for any of
these glorious pictures, no thought of anything but a possible
whale in sight.

My silent rhapsodies were rudely interrupted by something far
away on the horizon. Hardly daring to breathe, I strained my
eyes, and--yes, it was--"Ah blow-w-w-w!" I bellowed at the top
of my lung-power, never before had I had the opportunity of thus
distinguishing myself, and I felt a bit sore about it.

There was a little obliquity about the direction of the spout
that made me hopeful, for the cachalot alone sends his spout
diagonally upward, all the others spout vertically. It was but a
school of kogia, or "short-headed" cachalots; but as we secured
five of them, averaging seven barrels each, with scarcely any
trouble, I felt quite pleased with myself. We had quite an
exciting bit of sport with them, they were so lively; but as for
danger--well, they only seemed like big "black fish" to us now,
and we quite enjoyed the fun. They were, in all respects,
miniature sperm whales, except that the head was much shorter and
smaller in proportion to the body than their big relations.




Hitherto, with the exception of a couple of gales in the North
and South Atlantic, we had been singularly fortunate in our
weather. It does happen so sometimes.

I remember once making a round voyage from Cardiff to Hong Kong
and the Philippines, back to London, in ten months, and during
the whole of that time we did not have a downright gale. The
worst weather we encountered was between Beachy Head and
Portland, going round from London to Cardiff.

And I once spoke the barque LUTTERWORTH, a companion ship to us
from Portland, Oregon to Falmouth, whose mate informed me that
they carried their royals from port to port without ever furling
them once, except to shift the suit of sails. But now a change
was evidently imminent. Of course, we forward had no access to
the barometer; not that we should have understood its indications
if we had seen it, but we all knew that something was going to be
radically wrong with the weather. For instead of the lovely blue
of the sky we had been so long accustomed to by day and night, a
nasty, greasy shade had come over the heavens, which, reflected
in the sea, made that look dirty and stale also. That well-known
appearance of the waves before a storm was also very marked,
which consists of an undecided sort of break in their tops.
Instead of running regularly, they seemed to hunch themselves up
in little heaps, and throw off a tiny flutter of spray, which
generally fell in the opposite direction to what little wind
there was. The pigs and fowls felt the approaching change
keenly, and manifested the greatest uneasiness, leaving their
food and acting strangely. We were making scarcely any headway,
so that the storm was longer making its appearance than it would
have been had we been a swift clipper ship running down the
Indian Ocean. For two days we were kept in suspense; but on the
second night the gloom began to deepen, the wind to moan, and a
very uncomfortable "jobble" of a sea got up. Extra, "gaskets"
were put upon the sails, and everything movable about the decks
was made as secure as it could be. Only the two close-reefed
topsails and two storm stay-sails were carried, so that we were
in excellent trim for fighting the bad weather when it did come.
The sky gradually darkened and assumed a livid green tint, the
effect of which was most peculiar.

The wind blew fitfully in short, gusts, veering continually back
and forth over about a quarter of the compass. Although it was
still light, it kept up an incessant mournful moan not to be
accounted for in any way. Darker and darker grew the heavens,
although no clouds were visible, only a general pall of darkness.
Glimmering lightnings played continually about the eastern
horizon, but not brilliant enough to show us the approaching
storm-cloud. And so came the morning of the third day from the
beginning of the change. But for the clock we should hardly have
known that day had broken, so gloomy and dark was the sky. At
last light came in the east, but such a light as no one would
wish to see. It was a lurid glare, such as may be seen playing
over a cupola of Bessemer steel when the speigeleisen is added,
only on such an extensive scale that its brilliancy was dulled
into horror. Then, beneath it we saw the mountainous clouds
fringed with dull violet and with jagged sabres of lightning
darting from their solid black bosoms. The wind began to rise
steadily but rapidly, so that by eight a.m. it was blowing a
furious gale from E.N.E. In direction it was still unsteady, the
ship coming up and falling off to it several points. Now, great
masses of torn, ragged cloud hurtled past us above, so low down
as almost to touch the mastheads. Still the wind increased,
still the sea rose, till at last the skipper judged it well to
haul down the tiny triangle of storm stay-sail still set (the
topsail and fore stay-sail had been furled long before), and let
her drift under bare poles, except for three square feet of stout
canvas in the weather mizen-rigging. The roar of the wind now
dominated every sound, so that it might have been thundering
furiously, but we should not have heard it. The ship still
maintained her splendid character as a sea-boat, hardly shipping
a drop of water; but she lay over at a most distressing angle,
her deck sloping off fully thirty-five to forty degrees.
Fortunately she did not roll to windward. It may have been
raining in perfect torrents, but the tempest tore off the surface
of the sea, and sent it in massive sheets continually flying over
us, so that we could not possibly have distinguished between
fresh water and salt.

The chief anxiety was for the safety of the boats. Early on the
second day of warning they had been hoisted to the topmost notch
of the cranes, and secured as thoroughly as experience could
suggest; but at every lee lurch we gave it seemed as if we must
dip them under water, while the wind threatened to stave the
weather ones in by its actual solid weight. It was now blowing a
furious cyclone, the force of which has never been accurately
gauged (even by the present elaborate instruments of various
kinds in use). That force is, however, not to be imagined by any
one who has not witnessed it, except that one notable instance is
on record by which mathematicians may get an approximate

Captain Toynbee, the late highly respected and admired Marine
Superintendent of the British Meteorological Office, has told us
how, during a cyclone which he rode out in the HOTSPUR at
Sandheads, the mouth of the Hooghly, the three naked topgallant-
masts of his ship, though of well-tested timber a foot in
diameter, and supported by all the usual network of stays, and
without the yards, were snapped off and carried away solely by
the violence of the wind. It must, of course, have been an
extreme gust, which did not last many seconds, for no cable that
was ever forged would have held the ship against such a
cataclysm as that. This gentleman's integrity is above
suspicion, so that no exaggeration could be charged against him,
and he had the additional testimony of his officers and men to
this otherwise incredible fact.

The terrible day wore on, without any lightening of the tempest,
till noon, when the wind suddenly fell to a calm. Until that
time, the sea, although heavy, was not vicious or irregular, and
we had not shipped any heavy water at all. But when the force of
the wind was suddenly withdrawn, such a sea arose as I have never
seen before or since. Inky mountains of water raised their
savage heads in wildest confusion, smashing one another in
whirlpools of foam. It was like a picture of the primeval deep
out of which arose the new-born world. Suddenly out of the
whirling blackness overhead the moon appeared, nearly in the
zenith, sending down through the apex of a dome of torn and madly
gyrating cloud a flood of brilliant light. Illumined by that
startling radiance, our staunch and seaworthy ship was tossed and
twirled in the hideous vortex of mad sea until her motion was
distracting. It was quite impossible to loose one's hold and
attempt to do anything without running the imminent risk of being
dashed to pieces. Our decks were full of water now, for it
tumbled on board at all points; but as yet no serious weight of a
sea had fallen upon us, nor had any damage been done. Such a
miracle as that could not be expected to continue for long.
Suddenly a warning shout rang out from somewhere--"Hold on all,
for your lives!" Out of the hideous turmoil around arose, like
some black, fantastic ruin, an awful heap of water. Higher and
higher it towered, until it was level with our lower yards, then
it broke and fell upon us. All was blank. Beneath that mass
every thought, every feeling, fled but one--"How long shall I be
able to hold my breath?" After what seemed a never-ending time,
we emerged from the wave more dead than alive, but with the good
ship still staunch underneath us, and Hope's lamp burning
brightly. The moon had been momentarily obscured, but now shone
out again, lighting up brilliantly our bravely-battling ship.
But, alas for others!--men, like ourselves, whose hopes were
gone. Quite near us was the battered remainder of what had been
a splendid ship. Her masts were gone, not even the stumps being
visible, and it seemed to our eager eyes as if she was settling
down. It was even so, for as we looked, unmindful of our own
danger, she quietly disappeared--swallowed up with her human
freight in a moment, like a pebble dropped into a pond.

While we looked with hardly beating hearts at the place where she
had sunk, all was blotted out in thick darkness again. With a
roar, as of a thousand thunders, the tempest came once more, but
from the opposite direction now. As we were under no sail, we
ran little risk of being caught aback; but, even had we, nothing
could have been done, the vessel being utterly out of control,
besides the impossibility of getting about. It so happened,
however, that when the storm burst upon us again, we were stern
on to it, and we drove steadily for a few moments until we had
time to haul to the wind again. Great heavens! how it blew!
Surely, I thought, this cannot last long--just as we sometimes
say of the rain when it is extra heavy. It did last, however,
for what seemed an interminable time, although any one could see
that the sky was getting kindlier. Gradually, imperceptibly, it
took off, the sky cleared, and the tumult ceased, until a new day
broke in untellable beauty over a revivified world.

Years afterwards I read, in one of the hand-books treating of
hurricanes and cyclones, that "in the centre of these revolving
storms the sea is so violent that few ships can pass through it
and live." That is true talk. I have been there, and bear
witness that but for the build and sea-kindliness of the
CACHALOT, she could not have come out of that horrible cauldron
again, but would have joined that nameless unfortunate whom we
saw succumb, "never again heard of." As it was, we found two of
the boats stove in, whether by breaking sea or crushing wind
nobody knows. Most of the planking of the bulwarks was also
gone, burst outward by the weight of the water on deck. Only the
normal quantity of water was found in the well on sounding, and
not even a rope-yarn was gone from aloft. Altogether, we came
out of the ordeal triumphantly, where many a gallant vessel met
her fate, and the behaviour of the grand old tub gave me a
positive affection for her, such as I have never felt for a ship
before or since.

There was now a big heap of work for the carpenter, so the
skipper decided to run in for the Cocos or Keeling islands, in
order to lay quietly and refit. We had now only three boats
sound, the one smashed when poor Bamberger died being still
unfinished--of course, the repairs had practically amounted to
rebuilding. Therefore we kept away for this strange assemblage
of reefs and islets, arriving off them early the next day.

They consist of a true "atoll," or basin, whose rim is of coral
reefs, culminating occasionally in sandy islands or cays formed
by the accumulated debris washed up from the reef below, and then
clothed upon with all sorts of plants by the agency of birds and

These islands have lately been so fully described in many
different journals, that I shall not burden the reader with any
twice-told tales about them, but merely chronicle the fact that
for a week we lay at anchor off one of the outlying cays, toiling
continuously to get the vessel again in fighting trim.

At last the overworked carpenter and his crew got through their
heavy task, and the order was given to "man the windlass." Up
came the anchor, and away we went again towards what used to be a
noted haunt of the sperm whale, the Seychelle Archipelego.
Before the French, whose flag flies over these islands, had with
their usual short-sighted policy, clapped on prohibitive port
charges, Mahe was a specially favoured place of call for the
whalers. But when whale-ships find that it does not pay to visit
a place, being under no compulsion as regards time, they soon
find other harbours that serve their turn. We, of course, had no
need to visit any port for some time to come, having made such
good use of our opportunities at the Cocos.

We found whales scarce and small, so, although we cruised in this
vicinity for nearly two months, six small cow cachalots were all
we were able to add to our stock, representing less then two
hundred barrels of oil. This was hardly good enough for Captain
Slocum. Therefore, we gradually drew away from this beautiful
cluster of islands, and crept across the Indian Ocean towards the
Straits of Malacca. On the way, we one night encountered that
strange phenomenon, a "milk" sea. It was a lovely night, with
scarcely any wind, the stars trying to make up for the absence of
the moon by shining with intense brightness. The water had been
more phosphorescent than usual, so that every little fish left a
track of light behind him, greatly disproportionate to his size.
As the night wore on, the sea grew brighter and brighter, until
by midnight we appeared to be sailing on an ocean of lambent
flames. Every little wave that broke against the ship's side
sent up a shower of diamond-like spray, wonderfully beautiful to
see, while a passing school of porpoises fairly set the sea
blazing as they leaped and gambolled in its glowing waters.
Looking up from sea to sky, the latter seemed quite black instead
of blue, and the lustre of the stars was diminished till they
only looked like points of polished steel, having quite lost for
the time their radiant sparkle. In that shining flood the
blackness of the ship stood out in startling contrast, and when
we looked over the side our faces were strangely lit up by the
brilliant glow.

For several hours this beautiful appearance persisted, fading
away at last as gradually as it came. No satisfactory explanation
of this curious phenomenon has ever been given, nor does it
appear to portend any change of weather. It cannot be called a
rare occurrence, although I have only seen it thrice myself--
once in the Bay of Cavite, in the Philippine Islands; once in the
Pacific, near the Solomon Islands; and on this occasion of which
I now write. But no one who had ever witnessed it could forget
so wonderful a sight.

One morning, a week after are had taken our departure from the
Seychelles, the officer at the main crow's-nest reported a vessel
of some sort about five miles to the windward. Something strange
in her appearance made the skipper haul up to intercept her. As
we drew nearer, we made her out to be a Malay "prahu;" but, by
the look of her, she was deserted. The big three-cornered sail
that had been set, hung in tattered festoons from the long,
slender yard, which, without any gear to steady it, swung heavily
to and fro as the vessel rolled to the long swell. We drew
closer and closer, but no sign of life was visible on board, so
the captain ordered a boat to go and investigate.

In two minutes we were speeding away towards her, and, making a
sweep round her stern, prepared to board her. But we were met by
a stench so awful that Mr. Count would not proceed, and at once
returned to the ship. The boat was quickly hoisted again, and
the ship manoeuvred to pass close to windward of the derelict.
Then, from our mast-head, a horrible sight became visible. Lying
about the weather-beaten deck, in various postures, were thirteen
corpses, all far advanced in decay, which horrible fact fully
accounted for the intolerable stench that had driven us away. It
is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that we promptly hauled our
wind, and placed a good distance between us and that awful load
of death as soon as possible. Poor wretches! What terrible
calamity had befallen them, we could not guess; whatever it was,
it had been complete; nor would any sane man falling across them
run the risk of closer examination into details than we had done.
It was a great pity that we were not able to sink the prahu with
her ghastly cargo, and so free the air from that poisonous foetor
that was a deadly danger to any vessel getting under her lee.

Next day, and for a whole week after, we had a stark calm such a
calm as one realizes who reads sympathetically that magical piece
of work, the "Ancient Mariner." What an amazing instance of the
triumph of the human imagination! For Coleridge certainly never
witnessed such a scene as he there describes with an accuracy of
detail that is astounding. Very few sailors have noticed the
sickening condition of the ocean when the life-giving breeze
totally fails for any length of time, or, if they have, they have
said but little about it. Of course, some parts of the sea show
the evil effects of stagnation much sooner than others; but,
generally speaking, want of wind at sea, if long continued,
produces a condition of things dangerous to the health of any
land near by. Whale-ships, penetrating as they do to parts
carefully avoided by ordinary trading vessels, often afford their
crews an opportunity of seeing things mostly hidden from the
sight of man, when, actuated by some mysterious impulse, the
uncanny denizens of the middle depths of the ocean rise to higher
levels, and show their weird shapes to the sun.




It has often been a matter for considerable surprise to me, that
while the urban population of Great Britain is periodically
agitated over the great sea-serpent question, sailors, as a
class, have very little to say on the subject. During a
considerable sea experience in all classes of vessels, except
men-of-war, and in most positions, I have heard a fairly
comprehensive catalogue of subjects brought under dog-watch
discussion; but the sea-serpent has never, within my
recollection, been one of them.

The reasons for this abstinence may vary a great deal, but chief
among them is--sailors, as a class, "don't believe in no such a
pusson." More than that, they do believe that the mythical sea-
serpent is "boomed" at certain periods, in the lack of other
subjects, which may not be far from the fact. But there is also
another reason, involving a disagreeable, although strictly
accurate, statement. Sailors are, again taken as a class, the
least observant of men. They will talk by the hour of
trivialities about which they know nothing; they will spin
interminable "cuffers" of debaucheries ashore all over the world;
pick to pieces the reputation of all the officers with whom they
have ever sailed; but of the glories, marvels, and mysteries of
the mighty deep you will hear not a word. I can never forget
when on my first voyage to the West Indies, at the age of twelve,
I was one night smitten with awe and wonder at the sight of a
vast halo round the moon, some thirty or forty degrees in
diameter. Turning to the man at the wheel, I asked him earnestly
"what THAT was." He looked up with an uninterested eye for an
instant in the direction of my finger, then listlessly informed
me, "That's what they call a sarcle." For a long time I wondered
what he could mean, but it gradually dawned upon me that it was
his Norfolk pronunciation of the word "circle." The definition
was a typical one, no worse than would be given by the great
majority of seamen of most of the natural phenomena they witness
daily. Very few seamen could distinguish between one whale and
another of a different species, or give an intelligible account
of the most ordinary and often-seen denizens of the sea. Whalers
are especially to be blamed for their blindness. "Eyes and no
Eyes; or the Art of Seeing" has evidently been little heard of
among them. To this day I can conceive of no more delightful
journey for a naturalist to take than a voyage in a southern
whaler, especially if he were allowed to examine at his leisure
such creatures as were caught. But on board the CACHALOT I could
get no information at all upon the habits of the strange
creatures we met with, except whales, and very little about them.

I have before referred to the great molluscs upon which the sperm
whale feeds, portions of which I so frequently saw ejected from
the stomach of dying whales. Great as my curiosity naturally was
to know more of these immense organisms, all my inquiries on the
subject were fruitless. These veterans of the whale-fishery knew
that the sperm whale lived on big cuttlefish; but they neither
knew, nor cared to know, anything more about these marvellous
molluscs. Yet, from the earliest dawn of history, observant men
have been striving to learn something definite about the marine
monsters of which all old legends of the sea have something to

As I mentioned in the last chapter, we were gradually edging
across the Indian Ocean towards Sumatra, but had been checked in
our course by a calm lasting a whole week. A light breeze then
sprang up, aided by which we crept around Achin Head, the
northern point of the great island of Sumatra. Like some
gigantic beacon, the enormous mass of the Golden Mountain
dominated the peaceful scene. Pulo Way, or Water Island, looked
very inviting, and I should have been glad to visit a place so
well known to seamen by sight, but so little known by actual
touching at. Our recent stay at the Cocos, however, had settled
the question of our calling anywhere else for some time decidedly
in the negative, unless we might be compelled by accident;
moreover, even in these days of law and order, it is not wise to
go poking about among the islands of the Malayan seas unless you
are prepared to fight. Our mission being to fight whales, we
were averse to running any risks, except in the lawful and
necessary exercise of our calling.

It would at first sight appear strange that, in view of the
enormous traffic of steamships through the Malacca Straits, so
easily "gallied" a creature as the cachalot should care to
frequent its waters; indeed, I should certainly think that a
great reduction in the numbers of whales found there must have
taken place. But it must also be remembered, that in modern
steam navigation certain well-defined courses are laid down,
which vessels follow from point to point with hardly any
deviation therefrom, and that consequently little disturbance of
the sea by their panting propellers takes place, except upon
these marine pathways; as, for instance, in the Red Sea, where
the examination of thousands of log-books proved conclusively
that, except upon straight lines drawn from point to point
between Suez to Perim, the sea is practically unused to-day.

The few Arab dhows and loitering surveying ships hardly count in
this connection, of course. At any rate, we had not entered the
straits, but were cruising between Car Nicobar and Junkseylon,
when we "met up" with a full-grown cachalot, as ugly a customer
as one could wish. From nine a.m. till dusk the battle raged
--for I have often noticed that unless you kill your whale pretty
soon, he gets so wary, as well as fierce, that you stand a gaudy
chance of being worn down yourselves before you settle accounts
with your adversary. This affair certainly looked at one time as
if such would be the case with us; but along about five p.m., to
our great joy, we got him killed. The ejected food was in masses
of enormous size, larger than any we had yet seen on the voyage,
some of them being estimated to be of the size of our hatch-
house, viz. 8 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet. The whale having been
secured alongside, all hands were sent below, as they were worn
out with the day's work. The third mate being ill, I had been
invested with the questionable honour of standing his watch, on
account of my sea experience and growing favour with the chief.
Very bitterly did I resent the privilege at the time, I remember,
being so tired and sleepy that I knew not how to keep awake. I
did not imagine that anything would happen to make me prize that
night's experience for the rest of my life, or I should have
taken matters with a far better grace.

At about eleven p.m. I was leaning over the lee rail, grazing
steadily at the bright surface of the sea, where the intense
radiance of the tropical moon made a broad path like a pavement
of burnished silver. Eyes that saw not, mind only confusedly
conscious of my surroundings, were mine; but suddenly I started
to my feet with an exclamation, and stared with all my might at
the strangest sight I ever saw. There was a violent commotion in
the sea right where the moon's rays were concentrated, so great
that, remembering our position, I was at first inclined to alarm
all hands; for I had often heard of volcanic islands suddenly
lifting their heads from the depths below, or disappearing in a
moment, and, with Sumatra's chain of active volcanoes so near, I
felt doubtful indeed of what was now happening. Getting the
night-glasses out of the cabin scuttle, where they were always
hung in readiness, I focussed them on the troubled spot,
perfectly satisfied by a short examination that neither volcano
nor earthquake had anything to do with what was going on; yet so
vast were the forces engaged that I might well have been excused
for my first supposition. A very large sperm whale was locked in
deadly conflict with a cuttle-fish or squid, almost as large as
himself, whose interminable tentacles seemed to enlace the whole
of his great body. The head of the whale especially seemed a
perfect net-work of writhing arms--naturally I suppose, for it
appeared as if the whale had the tail part of the mollusc in his
jaws, and, in a business-like, methodical way, was sawing through
it. By the side of the black columnar head of the whale appeared
the head of the great squid, as awful an object as one could well
imagine even in a fevered dream. Judging as carefully as
possible, I estimated it to be at least as large as one of our
pipes, which contained three hundred and fifty gallons; but it
may have been, and probably was, a good deal larger. The eyes
were very remarkable from their size and blackness, which,
contrasted with the livid whiteness of the head, made their
appearance all the more striking. They were, at least, a foot in
diameter, and, seen under such conditions, looked decidedly eerie
and hubgoblin-like. All around the combatants were numerous
sharks, like jackals round a lion, ready to share the feast, and
apparently assisting in the destruction of the huge cephalopod.
So the titanic struggle went on, in perfect silence as far as we
were concerned, because, even had there been any noise, our
distance from the scene of conflict would not have permitted us
to hear it.

Thinking that such a sight ought not to be missed by the captain,
I overcame my dread of him sufficiently to call him, and tell him
of what was taking place. He met my remarks with such a furious
burst of anger at my daring to disturb him for such a cause, that
I fled precipitately on deck again, having the remainder of the
vision to myself, for none of the others cared sufficiently for
such things to lose five minutes' sleep in witnessing them. The
conflict ceased, the sea resumed its placid calm, and nothing
remained to tell of the fight but a strong odour of fish, as of a
bank of seaweed left by the tide in the blazing sun. Eight bells
struck, and I went below to a troubled sleep, wherein all the
awful monsters that an over-excited brain could conjure up
pursued me through the gloomy caves of ocean, or mocked my pigmy
efforts to escape.

The occasions upon which these gigantic cuttle-fish appear at the
sea surface must, I think, be very rare. From their construction,
they appear fitted only to grope among the rocks at the bottom of
the ocean. Their mode of progression is backward, by the
forcible ejection of a jet of water from an orifice in the neck,
besides the rectum or cloaca. Consequently their normal position
is head-downward, and with tentacles spread out like the ribs of
an umbrella--eight of them at least; the two long ones, like the
antennae of an insect, rove unceasingly around, seeking prey.

The imagination can hardly picture a more terrible object than
one of these huge monsters brooding in the ocean depths, the
gloom of his surroundings increased by the inky fluid (sepia)
which he secretes in copious quantities, every cup-shaped disc,
of the hundreds with which the restless tentacles are furnished,
ready at the slightest touch to grip whatever is near, not only
by suction, but by the great claws set all round within its
circle. And in the centre of this net-work of living traps is
the chasm-like mouth, with its enormous parrot-beak, ready to
rend piecemeal whatever is held by the tentaculae. The very
thought of it makes one's flesh crawl. Well did Michelet term
them "the insatiable nightmares of the sea."

Yet, but for them, how would such great creatures as the sperm
whale be fed? Unable, from their bulk, to capture small fish
except by accident, and, by the absence of a sieve of baleen,
precluded from subsisting upon the tiny crustacea, which support
the MYSTICETAE, the cachalots seem to be confined for their diet
to cuttle-fish, and, from their point of view, the bigger the
latter are the better. How big they may become in the depths of
the sea, no man knoweth; but it is unlikely that even the vast
specimens seen are full-sized, since they have only come to the
surface under abnormal conditions, like the one I have attempted
to describe, who had evidently been dragged up by his relentless

Creatures like these, who inhabit deep waters, and do not need to
come to the surface by the exigencies of their existence,
necessarily present many obstacles to accurate investigation of
their structure and habits; but, from the few specimens that have
been obtained of late years, fairly comprehensive details have
been compiled, and may be studied in various French and German
works, of which the Natural History Museum at South Kensington
possesses copies. These, through the courtesy of the authorities
in charge, are easily accessible to students who wish to
prosecute the study of this wonderful branch of the great
mollusca family.

When we commenced to cut in our whale next morning, the sea was
fairly alive with fish of innumerable kinds, while a vast host of
sea-birds, as usual, waited impatiently for the breaking-up of
the huge carcass, which they knew would afford them no end of a
feast. An untoward accident, which happened soon after the work
was started, gave the waiting myriads immense satisfaction,
although the unfortunate second mate, whose slip of the spade was
responsible, came in for a hurricane of vituperation from the
enraged skipper. It was in detaching the case from the head
--always a work of difficulty, and requiring great precision of
aim. Just as Mr. Cruce made a powerful thrust with his keen t
ool, the vessel rolled, and the blow, missing the score in which
he was cutting, fell upon the case instead, piercing its side.
For a few minutes the result was unnoticed amidst the wash of the
ragged edges of the cut, but presently a long streak of white,
wax-like pieces floating astern, and a tremendous commotion among
the birds, told the story. The liquid spermaceti was leaking
rapidly from the case, turning solid as it got into the cool
water. Nothing could be done to stop the waste, which, as it was
a large whale, was not less than twenty barrels, or about two
tuns of pure spermaceti. An accident of this kind never failed
to make our skipper almost unbearable in his temper for some days
afterwards; and, to do him justice, he did not discriminate very
carefully as to who felt his resentment besides its immediate

Therefore we had all a rough time of it while his angry fit
lasted, which was a whole week, or until all was shipshape again.
Meanwhile we were edging gradually through the Malacca Straits
and around the big island of Borneo, never going very near the
land on account of the great and numerous dangers attendant upon
coasting in those localities to any but those continually engaged
in such a business.

Indeed, all navigation in those seas to sailing vessels is
dangerous, and requires the greatest care. Often we were obliged
at a minute's notice to let go the anchor, although out of sight
of land, some rapid current being found carrying us swiftly
towards a shoal or race, where we might come to grief. Yet there
was no fuss or hurry, the same leisurely old system was
continued, and worked as well as ever. But it was not apparent
why we were threading the tortuous and difficult waters of the
Indian Archipelago. No whales of any kind were seen for at least
a month, although, from our leisurely mode of sailing, it was
evident that they were looked for.

An occasional native craft came alongside, desirous of bartering
fish, which we did not want, being able to catch all we needed as
readily almost as they were. Fruit and vegetables we could not
get at such distances from land, for the small canoes that lie in
wait for passing ships do not of course venture far from home.




Very tedious and trying was our passage northward, although every
effort was made by the skipper to expedite it. Nothing of
advantage to our cargo was seen for a long time, which, although
apparently what was to be expected, did not improve Captain
Slocum's temper. But, to the surprise of all, when we had
arrived off the beautiful island of Hong Kong, to which we
approached closely, we "raised" a grand sperm whale.

Many fishing-junks were in sight, busily plying their trade, and
at any other time we should have been much interested in the
quaint and cunning devices by which the patient, wily Chinaman
succeeds so admirably as a fisherman. Our own fishing, for the
time being, absorbed all our attention--the more, perhaps, that
we had for so long been unable to do anything in that line.
After the usual preliminaries, we were successful in getting fast
to the great creature, who immediately showed fight. So skilful
and wary did he prove that Captain Slocum, growing impatient at
our manoeuvring with no result, himself took the field, arriving
on the scene with the air of one who comes to see and conquer
without more delay. He brought with him a weapon which I have
not hitherto mentioned, because none of the harpooners could be
induced to use it, and consequently it had not been much in
evidence. Theoretically, it was as ideal tool for such work, its
chief drawback being its cumbrousness. It was known as "Pierce's
darting gun," being a combination of bomb-gun and harpoon,
capable of being darted at the whale like a plain harpoon. Its
construction was simple; indeed, the patent was a very old one.
A tube of brass, thickening towards the butt, at which was a
square chamber firmly welded to a socket for receiving the pole,
formed the gun itself. Within the chamber aforesaid a nipple
protruded from the base of the tube, and in line with it. The
trigger was simply a flat bit of steel, like a piece of clock
spring, which was held down by the hooked end of a steel rod long
enough to stick out beyond the muzzle of the gun three or four
inches, and held in position by two flanges at the butt and
muzzle of the barrel. On the opposite side of the tube were two
more flanges, close together, into the holes of which was
inserted the end of a specially made harpoon, having an eye
twisted in its shank through which the whale line was spliced.
The whole machine was fitted to a neat pole, and strongly secured
to it by means of a "gun warp," or short piece of thin line, by
which it could be hauled back into the boat after being darted at
a whale. To prepare this weapon for use, the barrel was loaded
with a charge of powder and a bomb similar to those used in the
shoulder-guns, the point of which just protruded from the muzzle.
An ordinary percussion cap was placed upon the nipple, and the
trigger cocked by placing the trigger-rod in position. The
harpoon, with the line attached, was firmly set into the socketed
flanges prepared for it, and the whole arrangement was then ready
to be darted at the whale in the usual way.

Supposing the aim to be good and the force sufficient, the
harpoon would penetrate the blubber until the end of the trigger-
rod was driven backwards by striking the blubber, releasing the
trigger and firing the gun. Thus the whale would be harpooned
and bomb-lanced at the same time, and, supposing everything to
work satisfactorily, very little more could be needed to finish
him. But the weapon was so cumbersome and awkward, and the
harpooners stood in such awe of it, that in the majority of cases
the whale was either missed altogether or the harpoon got such
slight hold that the gun did not go off, the result being
generally disastrous.

In the present case, however, the "Pierce" gun was in the hands
of a man by no means nervous, and above criticism or blame in
case of failure. So when he sailed in to the attack, and
delivered his "swashing blow," the report of the gun was
immediately heard, proving conclusively that a successful stroke
had been made.

It had an instantaneous and astonishing effect. The sorely
wounded monster, with one tremendous expiration, rolled over and
over swift as thought towards his aggressor, literally burying
the boat beneath his vast bulk. Now, one would have thought
surely, upon seeing this, that none of that boat's crew would
ever have been seen again. Nevertheless, strange as it may
appear, out of that seething lather of foam, all six heads
emerged again in an instant, but on the OTHER side of the great
creature. How any of them escaped instant violent death was, and
from the nature of the case must, ever remain, an unravelled
mystery, for the boat was crumbled into innumerable fragments,
and the three hundred fathoms of line, in a perfect maze of
entanglement, appeared to be wrapped about the writhing trunk of
the whale. Happily, there were two boats disengaged, so that
they were able very promptly to rescue the sufferers from their
perilous position in the boiling vortex of foam by which they
were surrounded. Meanwhile, the remaining boat had an easy task.
The shot delivered by the captain had taken deadly effect, the
bomb having entered the creature's side low down, directly abaft
the pectoral fin. It must have exploded within the cavity of the
bowels, from its position, causing such extensive injuries as to
make even that vast animal's death but a matter of a few moments.
Therefore, we did not run any unnecessary risks, but hauled off
to a safe distance and quietly watched the death-throes. They
were so brief, that in less than ten minutes from the time of the
accident we were busy securing the line through the flukes of our

The vessel was an unusually long time working up to us, so slow,
in fact, that Mr Count remarked, critically, "Shouldn't wonder if
th' ole man ain't hurt; they're taking things so all-fired easy."
By the time she had reached us, we had a good few visitors around
us from the fishing fleet, who caused us no little anxiety, The
Chinese have no prejudices; they would just as soon steal a whale
as a herring, if the conveyance could be effected without, more
trouble or risk to their own yellow skins. If it involved the
killing of a few foreign devils--well, so much to the good. The
ship, however, arrived before the fishermen had decided upon any
active steps, and we got our catch alongside without any delay.
The truth of Mr. Count's forecast was verified to the hilt, for
we found that the captain was so badly bruised about, the body
that he was unable to move, while one of the hands, a Portuguese,
was injured internally, and seemed very bad indeed. Had any one
told us that morning that we should be sorry to see Captain
Slocum with sore bones, we should have scoffed at the notion, and
some of us would probably have said that we should like to have
the opportunity of making him smart. But under the present
circumstances, with some hundreds of perfectly ruthless wretches
hovering around us, looking with longing eyes at the treasure we
had alongside, we could not help remembering the courage and
resource so often shown by the skipper, and wished with all our
hearts that we could have the benefit of them now. As soon as
dinner was over, we all "turned to" with a will to get the whale
cut in. None of us required to be told that to lay all night
with that whale alongside would be extremely unhealthy for us,
great doubt existing as to whether any of us would see morning
dawn again. There was, too, just a possibility that when the
carcass, stripped of its blubber, was cut adrift, those ravenous
crowds would fasten upon it, and let us go in peace.

All hands, therefore, worked like Trojans. There was no need to
drive us, nor was a single harsh word spoken. Nothing was heard
but the almost incessant clatter of the windlass pawls, abrupt
monosyllabic orders, and the occasional melancholy wail of a
gannet overhead. No word had been spoken on the subject among
us, yet somehow we all realized that we were working for a large
stake no less than our lives. What! says somebody, within a few
miles of Hong Kong? Oh yes; and even within Hong Kong harbour
itself, if opportunity offers. Let any man go down the wharf at
Hong Kong after sunset, and hail a sampan from the hundreds there
that are waiting to be hired. Hardly will the summons have left
his lips before a white policeman will be at his side, note-book
in hand, inquiring his name and ship, and taking a note of the
sampan's number, with the time of his leaving the wharf. Nothing
perfunctory about the job either. Let but these precautions be
omitted, and the chances that the passenger (if he have aught of
value about him) will ever arrive at his destination are almost

So good was the progress made that by five p.m. we were busy at
the head, while the last few turns of the windlass were being
taken to complete the skinning of the body. With a long pent-up
shout that last piece was severed and swung inboard, as the huge
mass of reeking flesh floated slowly astern. As it drifted away
we saw the patient watchers who had been waiting converging upon
it from all quarters, and our hopes rose high. But there was no
slackening of our efforts to get in the head. By the time it was
dark we managed to get the junk on board, and by the most
extraordinary efforts lifted the whole remainder of the head high
enough to make sail and stand off to sea. The wind was off the
land, the water smooth, and no swell on, so we took no damage
from that tremendous weight surging by our side, though, had the
worst come to the worst, we could have cut it adrift.

When morning dawned we hove-to, the land being only dimly visible
astern, and finished taking on board our "head matter" without
further incident. The danger past, we were all well pleased that
the captain was below, for the work proceeded quite pleasantly
under the genial rule of the mate. Since leaving port we had not
felt so comfortable, the work, with all its disagreeables,
seeming as nothing now that we could do it without fear and
trembling. Alas for poor Jemmy!--as we always persisted in
calling him from inability to pronounce his proper name--his case
was evidently hopeless. His fellows did their poor best to
comfort his fast-fleeting hours, one after another murmuring to
him the prayers of the Church, which, although they did not
understand them, they evidently believed most firmly to have some
marvellous power to open the gates of paradise and cleanse the
sinner. Notwithstanding the grim fact that their worship was
almost pure superstition, it was far more in accordance with the
fitness of things for a dying man's surroundings than such scenes
as I have witnessed in the forecastles of merchant ships when
poor sailors lay a-dying. I remember well once, when I was
second officer of a large passenger ship, going in the forecastle
as she lay at anchor at St. Helena, to see a sick man. Half the
crew were drunk, and the beastly kennel in which they lived was
in a thick fog of tobacco-smoke and the stale stench of rum.
Ribald songs, quarrelling, and blasphemy made a veritable
pandemonium of the place. I passed quietly through it to the
sick man's bunk, and found him--dead! He had passed away in the
midst of that, but the horror of it did not seem to impress his
bemused shipmates much.

Here, at any rate, there was quiet and decorum, while all that
could be done for the poor sufferer (not much, from ignorance of
how he was injured) was done. He was released from his pain in
the afternoon of the second day after the accident, the end
coming suddenly and peacefully. The same evening, at sunset, the
body, neatly sewn up in canvas, with a big lump of sandstone
secured to the feet, was brought on deck, laid on a hatch at the
gangway, and covered with the blue, star-spangled American Jack.
Then all hands were mustered in the waist, the ship's bell was
tolled, and the ensign run up halfway.

The captain was still too ill to be moved, so the mate stepped
forward with a rusty old Common Prayer-book in his hands, whereon
my vagrant fancy immediately fastened in frantic endeavour to
imagine how it came to be there. The silence of death was over
all. True, the man was but a unit of no special note among us,
but death had conferred upon him a brevet rank, in virtue of
which be dominated every thought. It seemed strange to me that
we who faced death so often and variously, until natural fear had
become deadened by custom, should, now that one of our number lay
a rapidly-corrupting husk before us, be so tremendously impressed
by the simple, inevitable fact. I suppose it was because none of
us were able to realize the immanence of Death until we saw his
handiwork. Mr. Count opened the book, fumbling nervously among
the unfamiliar leaves. Then he suddenly looked up, his weather-
scarred face glowing a dull brick-red, and said, in a low voice,
"This thing's too many fer me; kin any of ye do it? Ef not, I
guess we'll hev ter take it as read." There was no response for
a moment; then I stepped forward, reaching out my hand for the
book. Its contents were familiar enough to me, for in happy pre-
arab days I had been a chorister in the old Lock Chapel, Harrow
Road, and had borne my part in the service so often that I think
even now I could repeat the greater part of it MEMORITER. Mr.
Count gave it me without a word, and, trembling like a leaf, I
turned to the "Burial Service," and began the majestic sentences,
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord." I did not
know my own voice as the wonderful words sounded clearly in the
still air; but if ever a small body of soul-hardened men FELT the
power of God, it was then. At the words, "We therefore commit
his body to the deep," I paused, and, the mate making a sign, two
of the harpooners tilted the hatch, from which the remains slid
off into the unknown depths with a dull splash. Several of the
dead man's compatriots covered their faces, and murmured prayers
for the repose of his soul, while the tears trickled through
their horny fingers. But matters soon resumed their normal
course; the tension over, back came the strings of life into
position again, to play the same old tunes and discords once

The captured whale made an addition to our cargo of one hundred
and ten barrels--a very fair haul indeed. The harpooners were
disposed to regard this capture as auspicious upon opening the
North Pacific, where, in spite of the time we had spent, and the
fair luck we had experienced in the Indian Ocean, we expected to
make the chief portion of our cargo.

Our next cruising-ground is known to whalemen as the "Coast of
Japan" ground, and has certainly proved in the past the most
prolific fishery of sperm whales in the whole world. I am
inclined now to believe that there are more and larger cachalots
to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, between the parallels of
33deg. and 50deg. South; but there the drawback of heavy weather
and mountainous seas severely handicaps the fishermen.

It is somewhat of a misnomer to call the Coast of Japan ground by
that name, since to be successful you should not sight Japan at
all, but keep out of range of the cold current that sweeps right
across the Pacific, skirting the Philippines, along the coasts of
the Japanese islands as far as the Kuriles, and then returns to
the eastward again to the southward of the Aleutian Archipelago.
The greatest number of whales are always found in the vicinity of
the Bonin and Volcano groups of islands, which lie in the eddy
formed by the northward bend of the mighty current before
mentioned. This wonderful ground was first cruised by a London
whale-ship, the SYREN, in 1819, when the English branch of the
sperm whale-fishery was in its prime, and London skippers were
proud of the fact that one of their number, in the EMILIA, had
thirty-one years before first ventured around Cape Horn in
pursuit of the cachalot.

After the advent of the SYREN, the Bonins became the favourite
fishing-ground for both Americans and British, and for many years
the catch of oil taken from these teeming waters averaged four
thousand tuns annually. That the value of the fishery was
maintained at so high a level for over a quarter of a century was
doubtless due to the fact that there was a long, self-imposed
close season, during which the whales were quite unmolested.
Nothing in the migratory habits of this whale, so far as has ever
been observed, would have prevented a profitable fishing all the
year round; but custom, stronger even than profit, ordained that
whale-ships should never stay too long upon one fishing-ground,
but move on farther until the usual round had been made, unless
the vessel were filled in the mean time.

Of course, there are whales whose habits lead them at certain
seasons, for breeding purposes, to frequent various groups of
islands, but the cachalot seems to be quite impartial in his
preferences; if he "uses" around certain waters, he is just as
likely to be found there in July as January.

The Bonins, too, form an ideal calling-place, from the whaling
captain's point of view. Peel Island, the principal one of the
cluster, has a perfect harbour in Port Lloyd, where a vessel can
not only lie in comfort, sheltered from almost every wind that
blows, but where provisions, wood, and water are plentiful.
There is no inducement, or indeed room, for desertion, and the
place is healthy. It is colonized by Japs from the kingdom so
easily reached to the westward, and the busy little people, after
their manner, make a short stay very agreeable.

Once clear of the southern end of Formosa we had quite a rapid
run to the Bonins, carrying a press of sail day and night, as the
skipper was anxious to arrive there on account of his recent
injuries. He was still very lame, and he feared that some damage
might have been done to him of which he was ignorant. Besides,
it was easy to see that he did not altogether like anybody else
being in charge of his ship, no matter how good they were. Such
was the expedition we made that we arrived at Port Lloyd twelve
days after clearing up our last whale. Very beautiful indeed the
islands, appeared, with their bold, steep sides clad in richest
green, or, where no vegetation appeared, worn into a thousand
fantastic shapes by the sea, or the mountain torrents carving
away the lava of which they were all composed. For the whole of
the islands were volcanic, and Port Lloyd itself is nothing more
than the crater of a vast volcano, which in some tremendous
convulsion of nature has sunk from its former high estate low
enough to become a haven for ships.

I have said that it was a perfect harbour, but there is no doubt
that getting in or out requires plenty of nerve as well as
seamanship. There was so little room, and the eddying flaws of
wind under the high land were so baffling, that at various times
during our passage in it appeared as if nothing could prevent us
from getting stuck upon some of the adjacent hungry-looking coral
reefs. Nothing of the kind happened, however, and we came
comfortably to an anchor near three other whale-ships which were
already there. They were the DIEGO RAMIREZ, of Nantucket; the
CORONEL, of Providence, Rhode Island; and the GRAMPUS, of New
Bedford. These were the first whale-ships we had yet seen, and
it may be imagined how anxious we felt to meet men with whom we
could compare notes and exchange yarns. It might be, too, that
we should get some news of that world which, as far as we were
concerned, might as well have been at the other extremity of the
solar system for the last year, so completely isolated had we

The sails were hardly fast before a boat from each of the ships
was alongside with their respective skippers on board. The extra
exertion necessary to pilot the ship in had knocked the old man
up, in his present weak state, and he had gone below for a short
rest; so the three visitors dived down into the stuffy cabin, all
anxious to interview the latest comer. Considerate always, Mr.
Count allowed us to have the remainder of the day to ourselves,
so we set about entertaining our company. It was no joke twelve
of them coming upon us all at once, and babel ensued for a short
time. They knew the system too well to expect refreshments, so
we had not to apologize for having nothing to set before them.
They had not come, however, for meat and drink, but for talk.
And talk we did, sometimes altogether, sometimes rationally; but
I doubt whether any of us had ever enjoyed talking so much




There is generally current among seamen a notion that all masters
of ships are bound by law to give their crews twenty-four hours'
liberty and a portion of their wages to spend every three months,
if they are in port. I have never heard any authority quoted for
this, and do not know what foundation there is for such a belief,
although the practice is usually adhered to in English ships.
But American whale-ships apparently know no law, except the will
of their commanders, whose convenience is always the first
consideration. Thus, we had now been afloat for well over a
year, during which time, except for our foraging excursions at
the Cocos and Aldabra, we had certainly known no liberty for a
whole day.

Our present port being one where it was impossible to desert
without the certainty of prompt recapture, with subsequent
suffering altogether disproportionate to the offence, we were
told that one watch at a time would be allowed their liberty for
a day. So we of the port watch made our simple preparations,
received twenty-five cents each, and were turned adrift on the
beach to enjoy ourselves. We had our liberty, but we didn't know
what to do with it. There was a native town and a couple of low
groggeries kept by Chinamen, where some of my shipmates promptly
invested a portion of their wealth in some horrible liquor, the
smell of which was enough to make an ordinary individual sick.
There was no place apparently where one could get a meal, so that
the prospect of our stay ashore lasting a day did not seem very
great. I was fortunate enough, however, to foregather with a
Scotchman who was a beach-comber, and consequently "knew the
ropes." I dare say he was an unmitigated blackguard whenever he
got the chance, but he was certainly on his best behaviour with
me. He took me into the country a bit to see the sights, which
were such as most of the Pacific islands afford. Wonderful
indeed were the fantastic rocks, twisted into innumerable
grotesque shapes, and, along the shores, hollowed out into
caverns of all sizes, some large enough to shelter an army. He
was quite familiar with the natives, understanding enough of
their queer lingo to get along. By his friendly aid we got some
food-- yams, and fish cooked in native fashion, i.e. in heated
holes in the ground, for which the friendly Kanakas would take no
payment, although they looked murderous enough to be cannibals.
It does not do to go by looks always.

Well, after a long ramble, the Scotchman and I laid our weary
bodies down in the shade of a big rock, and had a grand sleep,
waking up again a little before sunset. We hastened down to the
beach off the town, where all my watchmates were sitting in a
row, like lost sheep, waiting to be taken on board again. They
had had enough of liberty; indeed, such liberty as that was
hardly worth having. It seems hardly credible, but we were
actually glad to get on board again, it was so miserable ashore,
The natives were most unsociable at the port, and we could not
make ourselves understood, so there was not much fun to be had.
Even those who were inclined to drink had too little for a spree,
which I was not sorry for, since doubtless a very unpleasant
reception would have awaited them had they come on board drunk.

Next day the starboard watch west on liberty, while we who had
received our share were told off to spend the day wooding and
watering. In this most pleasant of occupations (when the weather
is fine) I passed a much more satisfactory time than when
wandering about with no objective, an empty pocket, and a hungry
belly. No foremast hand has ever enjoyed his opportunities of
making the acquaintance of his various visiting places more than
I have; but the circumstances attendant upon one's leave must be
a little favourable, or I would much rather stay aboard and fish.
Our task was over for the day, a goodly store of wood and casks
of water having been shipped. We were sitting down to supper,
when, in answer to a hail from the beach, we were ordered to
fetch the liberty men. When we got to them, there was a pretty
how-d'ye-do. All of them were more or less drunk, some
exceedingly quarrelsome. Now, Mistah Jones was steering our
boat, looking as little like a man to take sauce from a drunken
sailor as you could imagine. Most of the transformed crowd ya-
hooing on the beach had felt the weight of his shoulder-of-mutton
fist, yet so utterly had prudence forsaken them that, before we
came near them, they were abusing him through all the varied
gamut of filthy language they possessed. My democratic
sentiments are deeply seated, but I do believe in authority, and
respect for it being rigidly enforced, so this uncalled-for scene
upset me, making me feel anxious that the gibbering fools might
get a lesson. They got one.

Goliath stood like a tower, his eyes alone betraying the fierce
anger boiling within. When we touched the beach, his voice was
mild end gentle as a child's, his movements calm and deliberate.
As soon as we had beached the boat he stepped ashore, and in two
strides was in the middle of the snarling group. Further parley
ceased at once. Snatching the loudest of them by the breast of
his shirt with his right hand, another one by the collar with his
left, he flung himself backwards towards the boat, knocking the
interveners right and left. But a protruding fragment of rock
caught his heel, bringing him with his captives to the ground in
a writhing mass. The rest, maddened beyond restraint of fear,
flung themselves upon the prostrate man, the glimmer of more than
one knife-blade appearing. Two of us from the boat--one with the
tiller, the other brandishing a paddle--rushed to the rescue; but
before we arrived the giant had heaved off his assailants, and,
with no other weapons than his bare hands, was doing terrific
execution among them. Not knowing, I suppose, whether we were
friendly to him or not, he shouted to us to keep away, nor dare
to interfere. There was no need. Disregarding such trifles as
a few superficial cuts--not feeling them perhaps--he so
unmercifully mauled that crowd that they howled again for mercy.
The battle was brief and bloody. Before hostilities had lasted
five minutes, six of the aggressors were stretched insensible;
the rest, comprising as many more, were pleading for mercy,
completely sober. Such prowess on the part of one man against
twelve seems hardly credible; but it must be remembered that
Goliath fought, with all the moral force of the ship's officers
behind him, against a disorganized crowd without backbone, who
would never have dared to face him but for the temporary mania
induced by the stuff they had drunk. It was a conflict between a
lion and a troop of jackals, whereof the issue was never in doubt
as long as lethal weapons were wanting.

Standing erect among the cowering creatures, the great negro
looked every inch a mediaeval hero. In a stern voice he bade his
subjugated enemies to get into the boat, assisting those to do so
who were too badly hurt to rise. Then we shoved off for the
ship--a sorrowful gang indeed.

As I bent to my oar, I felt very sorry for what had happened.
Here were half the crew guilty of an act of violence upon an
officer, which, according to the severe code under which we
lived, merited punishment as painful as could be inflicted, and
lasting for the rest of the voyage. Whatever form that
punishment might take, those of us who were innocent would be
almost equal sufferers with the others, because discrimination in
the treatment between watch and watch is always difficult, and in
our case it was certain that it would not be attempted. Except
as regarded physical violence, we might all expect to share
alike. Undoubtedly things looked very unpleasant. My gloomy
cogitations were abruptly terminated by the order to "unrow"--we
were alongside. Somehow or other all hands managed to scramble
on board, and assist in hoisting the boat up.

As soon as she was secured we slunk away forward, but we had
hardly got below before a tremendous summons from Goliath
brought us all aft again at the double quick. Most of the fracas
had been witnessed from the ship, so that but a minute or two was
needed to explain how or why it begun. Directly that explanation
had been supplied by Mistah Jones, the order was issued for the
culprits to appear.

I have before noticed how little love was lost between the
skipper and his officers, Goliath having even once gone so far as
to give me a very emphatic opinion of his about the "old man" of
a most unflattering nature. And had such a state of things
existed on board an English ship, the crew would simply have
taken charge, for they would have seen the junior officers
flouted, snubbed, and jeered at; and, of course, what they saw
the captain do, they would not be slow to improve on. Many a
promising young officer's career has been blighted in this way by
the feminine spite of a foolish man unable to see that if the
captain shows no respect to his officers, neither will the crew,
nor obedience either.

But in an American ship, so long as an officer remains an
officer, he must be treated as such by every man, under pain of
prompt punishment. Yankee skippers have far too much NOUS to
allow their hands to grow saucy in consequence of division among
the after-guard. So now a sort of court-martial was held upon
the unfortunates who had dared to attack Goliath, at which that
sable hero might have been the apple of Captain Slocum's eye, so
solicitous was he of Mistah Jones' honour and the reparation to
be made.

This sort of thing was right in his line. Naturally cruel, he
seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself in the prospect of making
human beings twist and writhe in pain. Nor would he be baulked
of a jot of his pleasure.

Goliath approached him, and muttered a few words, meant, I felt
sure, to appease him by letting him know how much they had
suffered at his strong hands; but he turned upon the negro with a
savage curse, bidding him be silent. Then every one of the
culprits was stripped, and secured to the lash-rail by the
wrists; scourges were made of cotton fish-line, knotted at
intervals, and secured to a stout handle; the harpooners were
told off as executioners, and the flogging began. Perhaps it was
necessary for the maintenance of discipline--certainly it was
trivial compared with the practice, till recently, in our own
army and navy; but I am glad to say that, compelled to witness
it, I felt quite sick--physically sick--trembling so in every
limb that my legs would not support me. It was not fear, for I
had nothing to fear had I been ever such a coward. Whatever it
was, I am not sorry either to have felt it or to own it, even
while I fully admit that for some forms of wickedness nothing but
the lash seems adequate punishment.

Some of the victims fainted, not being in the best condition at
the outset for undergoing so severe a trial; but all were treated
alike, buckets of salt water being flung over them. This drastic
reviver, while adding to their pain, brought them all into a
state of sufficient activity to get forward when they were
released. Smarting and degraded, all their temporary bravado
effectually banished, they were indeed pitiable objects, their
deplorable state all the harder to bear from its contrast to our
recent pleasure when we entertained the visiting crews.

Having completed our quantum of wood, water, and fresh provisions
for the officers, we got under way again for the fishing grounds.
I did not see how we could hope for a successful season, knowing
the utterly despondent state of the crew, which even affected the
officers, who, not so callous or cruel as the skipper, seemed to
be getting rather tired of the constant drive and kick, now the
normal condition of affairs. But the skipper's vigilance was
great. Whether he noted any sign of slackness or indifference on
the part of his coadjutors or not, of course I cannot say, but he
certainly seemed to put more vigour into his attentions than had
been his wont, and so kept everybody up to the mark.

Hitherto we had always had our fishing to ourselves; we were now
to see something of the ways of other men employed in the same
manner. For though the general idea or plan of campaign against
the whales is the same in all American whalers, every ship has
some individual peculiarity of tactics, which, needless to say,
are always far superior to those of any other ship. When we
commenced our cruise on this new ground, there were seven whalers
in sight, all quite as keen on the chase as ourselves, so that I
anticipated considerable sport of the liveliest kind should we
"raise" whales with such a fleet close at hand.

But for a whole week we saw nothing but a grampus or so, a few
loitering finbacks, and an occasional lean humpback bull
certainly not worth chasing. On the seventh afternoon, however, I
was in the main crow's-nest with the chief, when I noticed a ship
to windward of us alter her course, keeping away three or four
points on an angle that would presently bring her across our bows
a good way ahead. I was getting pretty well versed in the tricks
of the trade now, so I kept mum, but strained my eyes in the
direction for which the other ship was steering. The chief was
looking astern at some finbacks, the look-out men forward were
both staring to leeward, thus for a minute or so I had a small
arc of the horizon to myself. The time was short, but it
sufficed, and for the first time that voyage I had the privilege
of "raising" a sperm whale. My voice quivered with excitement as
I uttered the war-whoop, "Ah blo-o-o-o-w!" Round spun the mate on
his heel, while the hands clustered like bees roused from their
hive. "Where away--where?" gasped the mate. And I pointed to a
spot about half a point on the lee bow, at the same time calling
his attention to the fact that the stranger to windward was
keeping away. In answer to the skipper's hurried queries from
below Mr. Count gave him the general outline of affairs, to which
he replied by crowding every stitch of canvas on the vessel that
was available.

The spout I had seen was a good ten miles off, and, for the
present, seemed to belong to a "lone" whale, as it was the only
one visible. There was a good breeze blowing, as much, in fact,
as we could carry all sail to, the old barky making a tremendous
commotion as she blundered along under the unusual press of
canvas. In the excitement of the race all our woes were
forgotten; we only thought of the possibility of the ship getting
there first. We drew gradually nearer to the stranger, who, like
us, was carrying all the sail he had got, but, being able to go a
point or two free, was outsailing us.

It was anybody's race as yet, though, when we heard the skipper's
hail, "'Way down from aloft!" as he came up to take our place,
The whale had sounded, apparently heading to leeward, so that the
weather-gage held by our rival was not much advantage to him now.
We ran on for another two miles, then shortened sail, and stood
by to lower away the moment he should re-appear, Meanwhile
another ship was working up from to leeward, having evidently
noted our movements, or else, like the albatross, "smelt whale,"
no great distance to windward of him. Waiting for that whale to
rise was one of the most exciting experiences we had gone through
as yet, with two other ships so near. Everybody's nerves seemed
strung up to concert pitch, and it was quite a relief when from
half a dozen throats at once burst the cry, "There she white-
waters! Ah blo-o-o-o-w!" Not a mile away, dead to leeward of
us, quietly beating the water with the flat of his flukes, as if
there was no such thing in the watery world as a whale-ship.
Splash! almost simultaneously went the four boats. Out we shot
from the ship, all on our mettle; for was not the skipper's eye
upon us from his lofty eerie, as well as the crew of the other
ship, now not more than a mile away! We seemed a terrible time
getting the sails up, but the officers dared not risk our
willingness to pull while they could be independent of us.

By the time we were fairly off, the other ship's boats were
coming like the wind, so that eight boats were now converging
upon the unconscious monster, We fairly flew over the short,
choppy sea, getting drenched with the flying spray, but looking
out far more keenly at the other boats than at the whale. Up we
came to him, Mr. Count's boat to the left, the other mate's boat
to the right. Almost at the same moment the irons flew from the
hands of the rival harpooners; but while ours was buried to the
hitches in the whale's side, the other man's just ploughed up the
skin on the animal's back, as it passed over him and pierced our
boat close behind the harpooner's leg. Not seeing what had
happened to his iron, or knowing that we were fast, the other
harpooner promptly hurled his second iron, which struck solidly.
It was a very pretty tangle, but our position was rather bad.
The whale between us was tearing the bowels of the deep up in his
rage and fear; we were struggling frantically to get our sail
down; and at any moment that wretched iron through our upper
strake might tear a plank out of us. Our chief, foaming at the
mouth with rage and excitement, was screeching inarticulate
blasphemy at the other mate, who, not knowing what was the
matter, was yelling back all his copious vocabulary of abuse. I
felt very glad the whale was between us, or there would surely
have been murder done. At last, out drops the iron, leaving a
jagged hole you could put your arm through. Wasn't Mr. Count mad?
I really thought he would split with rage, for it was impossible
for us to go on with that hole in our bilge. The second mate
came alongside and took our line as the whale was just commencing
to sound, thus setting us free. We made at once for the other
ship's "fast" boat, and the compliments that had gone before were
just casual conversation to what filled the air with dislocated
language now. Presently both the champions cooled down a bit
from want of breath, and we got our case stated. It was received
with a yell of derision from the other side as a splendid effort
of lying on our part; because the first ship fast claims the
whale, and such a prize as this one we were quarrelling about was
not to be tamely yielded.

However, as reason asserted her sway over Mr. Count, he quieted
down, knowing full well that the state of the line belonging to
his rival would reveal the truth when the whale rose again.
Therefore we returned to the ship, leaving our three boats busy
waiting the whale's pleasure to rise again. When the skipper
heard what had happened, he had his own boat manned, proceeding
himself to the battle-field in expectation of complications
presently. By the time he arrived upon the scene there were two
more boats lying by, which had come up from the third ship,
mentioned as working up from to leeward. "Pretty fine ground
this's got ter be!" growled the old man. "Caint strike whale
'thout bein' crowded eout uv yer own propputty by a gang bunco
steerers like this. Shall hev ter quit it, en keep a pawnshop."

And still the whale kept going steadily down, down, down.
Already he was on the second boat's lines, and taking them out
faster than ever. Had we been alone, this persistence on his
part, though annoying, would not have mattered much; but, with so
many others in company, the possibilities of complication, should
we need to slip our end, were numerous. The ship kept near, and
Mr. Count, seeing how matters were going, had hastily patched his
boat, returning at once with another tub of line. He was but
just in time to bend on, when to our great delight we saw the end
slip from our rival's boat. This in no wise terminated his lien
on the whale, supposing he could prove that he struck first, but
it got him out of the way for the time.

Meanwhile we were running line faster than ever. There was an
enormous length attached to the animal now--some twelve thousand
feet--the weight of which was very great, to say nothing of the
many "drogues" or "stopwaters" attached to it at intervals.
Judge, then, of my surprise when a shout of "Blo-o-o-w!" called
my attention to the whale himself just breaking water about half
a mile away. It was an awkward predicament; for if we let go our
end, the others would be on the whale immediately; if we held on,
we should certainly be dragged below in a twinkling; and our
disengaged boats could do nothing, for they had no line. But the
difficulty soon settled itself. Out ran our end, leaving us bare
of line as pleasure skiffs. The newcomer, who had been prowling
near, keeping a close watch upon us, saw our boat jump up when
released from the weight. Off he flew like an arrow to the
labouring leviathan, now a "free fish," except for such claims as
the two first-comers had upon it, which claims are legally
assessed, where no dispute arises. In its disabled condition,
dragging so enormous a weight of line, it was but a few minutes
before the fresh boat was fast, while we looked on helplessly,
boiling with impotent rage. All that we could now hope for was
the salvage of some of our line, a mile and a half of which,
inextricably mixed up with about the same length of our rival's,
was towing astern of the fast-expiring cachalot.

So great had been the strain upon that hardly-used animal that he
did not go into his usual "flurry," but calmly expired without
the faintest struggle. In the mean time two of our boats had
been sent on board again to work the ship, while the skipper
proceeded to try his luck in the recovery of his gear. On
arriving at the dead whale, however, we found that he had rolled
over and over beneath the water so many times that the line was
fairly frapped round him, and the present possessors were in no
mood to allow us the privilege of unrolling it.

During the conversation we had drawn very near the carcass, so
near, in fact, that one hand was holding the boat alongside the
whale's "small" by a bight of the line. I suppose the skipper's
eagle eye must have caught sight of the trailing part of the line
streaming beneath,for suddenly he plunged overboard, reappearing
almost immediately with the line in his hand. He scrambled into
the boat with it, cutting it from the whale at once, and starting
his boat's crew hauling in.

Then there was a hubbub again. The captain of the NARRAGANSETT,
our first rival, protested vigorously against our monopoly of the
line; but in grim silence our skipper kept on, taking no notice of
him, while we steadily hauled. Unless he of the NARRAGANSETT
choose to fight for what he considered his rights, there was no
help for him. And there was something in our old man's
appearance eminently calculated to discourage aggression of any

At last, disgusted apparently with the hopeless turn affairs had
taken, the NARRAGANSETT's boats drew off, and returned on board
their ship. Two of our boats had by this time accumulated a
mountainous coil of line each, with which we returned to our own
vessel, leaving the skipper to visit the present holder of the
whale, the skipper of the JOHN HAMPDEN.

What arrangements they made, or how they settled the
NARRAGANSETT's claim between them, I never knew, but I dare say
there was a costly law-suit about it in New Bedford years after.

This was not very encouraging for a start, nor did the next meek
see us do any better. Several times we saw other ships with
whales alongside, but we got no show at all. Now, I had hoped a
great deal from our cruise on these grounds, because I had heard
whispers of a visit to the icy Sea of Okhotsk, and the prospect
was to me a horrible one. I never did take any stock in Arctic
work. But if we made a good season on the Japan grounds, we
should not go north, but gradually work down the Pacific again,
on the other side, cruising as we went.

Day after day went by without any fresh capture or even sight of
fish, until I began to believe that the stories I had heard of
the wonderful fecundity of the Coast of Japan waters were fables
without foundation, in fact. Had I known what sort of fishing
our next bout would be, I should not have been so eager to sight
whales again. If this be not a platitude of the worst kind, I
don't know the meaning of the word; but, after all, platitudes
have their uses, especially when you want to state a fact baldly.




All unversed as I am in the finer shades of literary
craftsmanship, there is great uncertainty in my mind whether it
is good or bad "art" to anticipate your next chapter by
foreshadowing its contents; but whether good or bad art, the
remembrance of my miseries on the eventful occasion I wish to
describe was so strong upon me as I wrote the last few lines of
the previous chapter that I just had to let those few words leak

Through all the vicissitudes of this strange voyage I had
hitherto felt pretty safe, and as the last thing a man
anticipates (if his digestion is all right) is the possibility of
coming to grief himself while fully prepared to see everybody
else go under, so I had got to think that whoever got killed I
was not to be--a very pleasing sentiment, and one that carries a
man far, enabling him to face dangers with a light heart which
otherwise would make a nerveless animal of him.

In this optimistic mood, then, I gaily flung myself into my place
in the mate's boat one morning, as we were departing in chase of
a magnificent cachalot that had been raised just after breakfast.
There were no other vessels in sight--much to our satisfaction
--the wind was light, with a cloudless sky, and the whale was
dead to leeward of us. We sped along at a good rate towards our
prospective victim, who was, in his leisurely enjoyment of life,
calmly lolling on the surface, occasionally lifting his enormous
tail out of water and letting it fall flat upon the surface with
a boom audible for miles.

We were as usual, first boat; but, much to the mate's annoyance,
when we were a short half-mile from the whale, our main-sheet
parted. It became immediately necessary to roll the sail up,
lest its flapping should alarm the watchful monster, and this
delayed us sufficiently to allow the other boats to shoot ahead
of us. Thus the second mate got fast some seconds before we
arrived on the scene, seeing which we furled sail unshipped the
mast, and went in on him with the oars only. At first the
proceedings were quite of the usual character, our chief wielding
his lance in most brilliant fashion, while not being fast to the
animal allowed us much greater freedom in our evolutions; but
that fatal habit of the mate's--of allowing his boat to take care
of herself so long as he was getting in some good home-thrusts
--once more asserted itself. Although the whale was exceedingly
vigorous, churning the sea into yeasty foam over an enormous
area, there we wallowed close to him, right in the middle of the
turmoil, actually courting disaster.

He had just settled down for a moment, when, glancing over the
gunwale, I saw his tail, like a vast shadow, sweeping away from
us towards the second mate, who was laying off the other side of
him. Before I had time to think, the mighty mass of gristle
leapt into the sunshine, curved back from us like a huge bow.
Then with a roar it came at us, released from its tension of
Heaven knows how many tons. Full on the broadside it struck us,
sending every soul but me flying out of the wreckage as if fired
from catapults. I did not go because my foot was jammed somehow
in the well of the boat, but the wrench nearly pulled my thigh-
bone out of its socket. I had hardly released my foot, when,
towering above me, came the colossal head of the great creature,
as he ploughed through the bundle of debris that had just been a
boat. There was an appalling roar of water in my ears, and
darkness that might be felt all around. Yet, in the midst of it
all, one thought predominated as clearly as if I had been turning
it over in my mind in the quiet of my bunk aboard--"What if he
should swallow me?" Nor to this day can I understand how I
escaped the portals of his gullet, which of course gaped wide as
a church door. But the agony of holding my breath soon
overpowered every other feeling and thought, till just as
something was going to snap inside my head I rose to the surface.
I was surrounded by a welter of bloody froth, which made it
impossible for me to see; but oh, the air was sweet!

I struck out blindly, instinctively, although I could feel so
strong an eddy that voluntary progress was out of the question.
My hand touched and clung to a rope, which immediately towed me
in some direction--I neither knew nor cared whither. Soon the
motion ceased, and, with a seaman's instinct, I began to haul
myself along by the rope I grasped, although no definite idea was
in my mind as to where it was attached. Presently I came butt up
against something solid, the feel of which gathered all my
scattered wits into a compact knub of dread. It was the whale!
"Any port in a storm," I murmured, beginning to haul away again
on my friendly line. By dint of hard work I pulled myself right
up the sloping, slippery bank of blubber, until I reached the
iron, which, as luck would have it, was planted in that side of
the carcass now uppermost. Carcass I said--well, certainly I had
no idea of there being any life remaining within the vast mass
beneath me, yet I had hardly time to take a couple of turns round
myself with the rope (or whale-line, as I had proved it to be),
when I felt the great animal quiver all over, and begin to forge
ahead. I was now composed enough to remember that help could not
be far away, and that my rescue, providing that I could keep
above water, was but a question of a few minutes. But I was
hardly prepared for the whale's next move. Being very near his
end, the boat, or boats, had drawn off a bit, I supposed, for I
could see nothing of them. Then I remembered the flurry. Almost
at the same moment it began; and there was I, who with fearful
admiration had so often watched the titanic convulsions of a
dying cachalot, actually involved in them. The turns were off my
body, but I was able to twist a couple of turns round my arms,
which, in case of his sounding, I could readily let go.

Then all was lost in roar and rush, as of the heart of some
mighty cataract, during which I was sometimes above, sometimes
beneath, the water, but always clinging with every ounce of
energy still left, to the line. Now, one thought was uppermost
--"What if he should breach?" I had seen them do so when in
flurry, leaping full twenty feet in the air. Then I prayed.

Quickly as all the preceding changes had passed came perfect
peace. There I lay, still alive, but so weak that, although I
could feel the turns slipping off my arms, and knew that I should
slide off the slope of the whale's side into the sea if they did,
I could make no effort to secure myself. Everything then passed
away from me, just as if I had gone to sleep.

I do not at all understand how I kept my position, nor how long,
but I awoke to the blessed sound of voices, and saw the second
mate's boat alongside, Very gently and tenderly they lifted me
into the boat, although I could hardly help screaming with agony
when they touched me, so bruised and broken up did I feel. My
arms must have been nearly torn from their sockets, for the
strands of the whale-line had cut deep into their flesh with the
strain upon it, while my thigh was swollen enormously from the
blow I received at the onset. Mr. Cruce was the most surprised
man I think I ever saw. For full ten minutes he stared at me
with wide-open eyes. When at last he spoke, it was with
difficulty, as if wanting words to express his astonishment. At
last he blurted out, "Whar you bin all de time, ennyhaow? 'Cawse
ef you bin hangin' on to dat ar wale ev'sence you boat smash, w'y
de debbil you hain't all ter bits, hey?" I smiled feebly, but
was too weak to talk, and presently went off again into a dead

When I recovered, I was snug in my bunk aboard, but aching in
every joint, and as sore as if I had been pounded with a club
until I was bruised all over. During the day Mr. Count was kind
enough to pay me a visit. With his usual luck, he had escaped
without the slightest injury; neither was any other member of the
boat's crew the worse for the ducking but myself. He told me
that the whale was one of the largest he had ever seen, and as
fat as butter. The boat was an entire loss, so completely
smashed to pieces that nothing Of her or her gear had been
recovered. After spending about a quarter of an hour with me,
he left me considerably cheered up, promising to look after me in
the way of food, and also to send me some books. He told
me that I need not worry myself about my inability to be at work,
because the old man was not unfavourably disposed towards me,
which piece of news gave me a great deal of comfort.

When my poor, weary shipmates came below from their heavy toil of
cutting in, they were almost inclined to be envious of my
comfort--small blame to them--though I would gladly have taken my
place among them again, could I have got rid of my hurts. But I
was condemned to lie there for nearly three weeks before I was
able to get about once more. In my sleep I would undergo the
horrible anticipation of sliding down that awful, cavernous mouth
over again, often waking with a shriek and drenched with sweat.

While I lay there, three whales were caught, all small cows, and
I was informed that the skipper was getting quite disgusted with
the luck. At last I managed to get on deck, quite a different-
looking man to when I went below, and feeling about ten years
older. I found the same sullen quiet reigning that I had noticed
several times before when we were unfortunate. I fancied that
the skipper looked more morose and savage than ever, though of
me, to my great relief, he took not the slightest notice.

The third day after my return to duty we sighted whales again.
We lowered three boats as promptly as usual; but when within
about half a mile of the "pod" some slight noise in one of the
boats gallied them, and away they went in the wind's eye, it
blowing a stiffish breeze at the time, It was from the first
evidently a hopeless task to chase them, but we persevered until
recalled to the ship, dead beat with fatigue. I was not sorry,
for my recent adventure seemed to have made quite a coward of me,
so much so that an unpleasant gnawing at the pit of my stomach as
we neared them almost made me sick. I earnestly hoped that so
inconvenient a feeling would speedily leave me, or I should be
but a poor creature in a boat.

In passing, I would like to refer to the wonderful way in which
these whales realize at a great distance, if the slightest sound
be made, the presence of danger. I do not use the word "hear"
because so abnormally small are their organs of hearing, the
external opening being quite difficult to find, that I do not
believe they can hear at all well. But I firmly believe they
possess another sense by means of which they are able to detect
any unusual vibration of the waves of either air or sea at a far
greater distance than it would be possible for them to hear,
Whatever this power may be which they possess, all whalemen are
well acquainted with their exercise of it, and always take most
elaborate precautions to render their approach to a whale

Our extraordinary want of success at last so annoyed the skipper
that he determined to quit the ground and go north. The near
approach of the open season in those regions probably hastened
his decision, but I learned from Goliath that he had always been
known as a most fortunate man among the "bowheads," as the great
MYSTICETAE of that part of the Arctic seas are called by the
Americans. Not that there is any difference, as far as I have
been able to ascertain, between them and the "right " whale of
the Greenland seas, but from some caprice of nomenclature for
which there is no accounting.

So in leisurely fashion we worked north, keeping, of course, a
bright look-out all the way for straggling cachalots, but not
seeing any. From scraps of information that in some mysterious
fashion leaked out, we learned that we were bound to the Okhotsk
Sea, it being no part of the skipper's intentions to go prowling
around Behrings Sea, where he believed the whales to be few and
far between.

It may be imagined that we of the crew were not at all pleased
with this intelligence, our life being, we considered,
sufficiently miserable without the addition of extreme cold, for
we did not realize that in the Arctic regions during summer the
cold is by no means unbearable, and our imagination pictured a
horrible waste of perpetual ice and snow, in the midst of which
we should be compelled to freeze while dodging whales through the
crevices of the floes. But whether our pictures of the prospects
that awaited us were caricatures or no made not the slightest
difference. "Growl you may, but go you must" is an old sea-
jingle of the truest ring; but, while our going was inevitable,
growling was a luxury none of us dare indulge in.

We had by no means a bad passage to the Kuriles, which form a
natural barrier enclosing the immense area of the Okhotsk Sea
from the vast stretch of the Pacific. Around this great chain of
islands the navigation is exceedingly difficult, and dangerous as
well, from the ever-varying currents as from the frequent fogs
and sudden storms. But these impediments to swift and safe
navigation are made light of by the whalemen, who, as I feel
never weary of remarking, are the finest navigators in the world
where speed is not the first consideration.

The most peculiar features of these inhospitable shores to a
seaman are the vast fields of seaweed surrounding them all, which
certainly helps to keep the sea down during gales, but renders
navigation most difficult on account of its concealment of hidden
dangers. These islands are aptly named, the word "Kurile" being
Kamschatkan for smoke; and whether it be regarded as given in
consequence of the numerous volcanoes which pour their fumes into
the air, or the all-prevailing fog fostered by the Kuro Siwo, or
Japanese counterpart of the Gulf stream, the designation is
equally appropriate.

We entered the Okhotsk Sea by the Nadeshda Channel, so-named
after Admiral Krusenstern's ship, which was the first civilized
vessel that passed through its turbulent waters. It separates
the islands Rashau and Mantaua by about twenty miles, yet so
conflicting and violent are the currents which eddy and swirl in
all parts of it, that without a steady, strong, fair wind it is
most dangerous to a sailing vessel. Thenceforward the navigation
was free from difficulty, or at least none that we could
recognize as such, so we gave all our attention to the business
which brought us there.

Scarcely any change was needed in our equipment, except the
substitution of longer harpoons for those we had been using, and
the putting away of the bomb-guns. These changes were made
because the blubber of the bowhead is so thick that ordinary
harpoons will not penetrate beyond it to the muscle, which,
unless they do, renders them liable to draw, upon a heavy strain.
As for the bombs, Yankees hold the mysticetae in such supreme
contempt that none of them would dream of wasting so expensive a
weapon as a bomb upon them. I was given to understand by my
constant crony, Mistah Jones, that there was no more trouble in
killing a bowhead than in slaughtering a sheep; and that while it
was quite true that accidents DID occur, they were entirely due
to the carelessness or clumsiness of the whalemen, and not in any
way traceable to a desire on the victim's part to do any one

The sea was little encumbered with ice, it being now late in
June, so that our progress was not at all impeded by the few
soft, brashy floes that we encountered, none of them hard enough
to do a ship's hull any damage. In most places the sea was
sufficiently shallow to permit of our anchoring. For this
purpose we used a large kedge, with stout hawser for cable, never
furling all the sails in case of a strong breeze suddenly
springing up, which would cause us to drag. This anchoring was
very comfortable. Besides allowing us to get much more rest than
when on other cruising-grounds, we were able to catch enormous
quantities of fish, mostly salmon, of which there were no less
than fourteen varieties. So plentiful were these splendid fish
that we got quite critical in our appreciation of them, very soon
finding that one kind, known as the "nerker," was far better
flavoured than any of the others. But as the daintiest food
palls the quickest, it was not long before we got tired of
salmon, and wished most heartily for beef.

Much fun has been made of the discontent of sailors With food
which is considered a luxury ashore, and wonder expressed that
if, as we assert, the ordinary dietary of the seaman be so bad,
he should be so ready to rebel when fed with delicacies. But in
justice to the sailor, it ought to be remembered that the
daintiest food may he rendered disgusting by bad cookery, such as
is the rule on board merchant ships. "God sends meat, but the
devil sends cooks" is a proverb which originated on board ship,
and no one who has ever served any time in a ship's forecastle
would deny that it is abundantly justified. Besides which, even
good food well cooked of one kind only, served many times in
succession, becomes very trying, only the plainest foods, such as
bread, rice, potatoes, etc., retaining their command of the
appetite continually.

I remember once, when upon the Coromandel coast in a big Greenock
ship, we found fowls very cheap. At Bimliapatam the captain
bought two or three hundred, which, as we had no coops, were
turned loose on deck. We had also at the same time prowling about
the decks three goats, twenty pigs, and two big dogs.

Consequently the state of the ship was filthy, nor could all our
efforts keep her clean. This farmyard condition of things was
permitted to continue for about a week, when the officers got so
tired of it, and the captain so annoyed at the frequent loss of
fowls by their flying overboard, that the edict went forth to
feed the foremast hands on poultry till further orders. Great
was our delight at the news. Fowl for dinner represented to our
imagination almost the apex of high living, only indulged in by
such pampered children of fortune as the officers of ships or
well-to-do people ashore.

When dinner-time arrived, we boys made haste to the galley with
watering mouths, joyfully anticipating that rare delight of the
sailor--a good "feed." The cook uncovered his coppers, plunged
his tormentors therein, and produced such a succession of ugly
corpses of fowls as I had never seen before. To each man a whole
one was allotted, and we bore the steaming hecatomb into the
forecastle. The boisterous merriment became hushed at our
approach, and faces grew lengthy when the unwholesome aspect of
the "treat" was revealed. Each man secured his bird, and
commenced operations. But oh, the disappointment, and the bad
words! What little flesh there was upon the framework of those
unhappy fowls was like leather itself, and utterly flavourless.
It could not well have been otherwise. The feathers had been
simply scalded off, the heads chopped off, and bodies split open
to facilitate drawing (I am sure I wonder the cook took the
trouble to do that much), and thus prepared they were cast into a
cauldron of boiling salt water. There, with the water fiercely
bubbling, they were kept for an hour and a half, then pitchforked
out into the mess kid and set before us. We simply could not eat
them; no one but a Noumean Kanaka could, for his teeth are equal
to husking a cocoa-nut, or chopping off a piece of sugar-cane as
thick as your wrist.

After much heated discussion, it was unanimously resolved to
protest at once against the substitution of such a fraud as this
poultry for our legitimate rations of "salt horse." so, bearing
the DISJECTA MEMBRA of our meal, the whole crowd marched aft, and
requested an interview with the skipper. He came out of the
cabin at once, saying, "Well, boys, what's the matter?" The
spokesman, a bald-headed Yankee, who had been bo'sun's mate of an
American man-of-war, stepped forward and said, offering his kid,
"Jest have a look at that sir." The skipper looked, saying,
inquiringly, "Well?" "D'yew think, sir," said Nat, "THET'S
proper grub for men?" "Proper grub! Why, you old sinner, you
don't mean to say you're goin' to growl about havin' chicken for
dinner?" "Well, sir, it depends muchly upon the chicken. All I
know is, that I've et some dam queer tack in my time, but sence I
ben fishin' I never had no such bundles of sticks parcelled with
leather served out to me. I HEV et boot--leastways gnawed it;
when I was cast away in a open boat for three weeks--but it
wa'n't bad boot, as boots go. Now, if yew say that these things
is boots, en thet it's necessary we should eat'em, or starve,
w'y, we'll think about it. But if yew call'em chickens,'n say
you're doin' us a kindness by stoppin' our'lowance of meat wile
we're wrastlin' with 'em, then we say we don't feel obliged to
yew, 'n 'll thank yew kindly to keep such lugsuries for yerself,
'n give us wot we signed for." A murmur of assent confirmed this
burst of eloquence, which we all considered a very fine effort
indeed. A moment's silence ensued; then the skipper burst out,
"I've often heard of such things, but hang me if I ever believed
'em till now! You ungrateful beggars! I'll see you get your
whack, and no more, from this out. When you get any little
extras aboard this ship agen, you'll be thankful for 'em; now I
tell you." "All right, sir," said Nat; "so long as we don't hev
to chaw any more of yer biled Bimly crows, I dessay we shall
worry along as usual." And, as the Parliamentary reports say,
the proceedings then terminated.

Now, suppose the skipper had told the story to some of his shore
friends, how very funny the sailors' conduct would have been made
to appear.

On another occasion long after, when I was mate of a barque
loading mahogany in Tonala, Mexico, the skipper thought he would
practise economy by buying a turtle instead of beef. A large
turtle was obtained for twenty-five cents, and handed over to the
cook to be dealt with, particular instructions being given him as
to the apportionment of the meat.

At eight bells there was a gathering of the men in front of the
poop, and a summons for the captain. When he appeared, the usual
stereotyped invitation to "have a look at THAT, if you please,
sir," was uttered. The skipper was, I think, prepared for a
protest, for he began to bluster immediately. "Look here!" he
bawled, "I ain't goin' to 'ave any of your dam nonsense. You WANT
somethin' to growl about, you do." " Well, Cap'n George," said
one of the men, "you shorely don't think we k'n eat shells, do
yer?" Just then I caught sight of the kid's contents, and could
hardly restrain my indignation. For in a dirty heap, the sight
of which might have pleased an Esquimaux, but was certainly
enough to disgust any civilized man, lay the calipee, or under-
shell of the turtle, hacked into irregular blocks. It had been
simply boiled, and flung into the kid, an unclean, disgusting
heap of shell, with pieces of dirty flesh attached in ragged
lumps. But the skipper, red-faced and angry, answered, "W'y, yer
so-and-so ijits, that's wot the Lord Mayor of London gives about
a guinea a hounce for w'en 'e feeds lords n' dooks. Only the
haristocracy at 'ome get a charnce to stick their teeth in such
grub as that. An' 'ere are you lot a-growlin' at 'avin' it for a
change!" "That's all right, cap'n," said the man; "bein' brort
up ter such lugsuries, of corse you kin appreshyate it. So if
yer keep it fer yer own eatin', an' giv us wot we signed for, we
shall be werry much obliged." "Now, I ain't a-goin" to 'ave none
o' YOUR cheek, so you'd better git forrard. You can betcher life
you won't get no more fresh messes this voy'ge." So, with
grumbling and ill-will on both sides, the conference came to an
end. But I thought, and still think, that the mess set before
those men, who had been working hard since six a.m., was unfit
for the food of a good dog.

Out of my own experience I might give many other instances of the
kind, but I hope these will suffice to show that Jack's growling
is often justified, when both sides of the story are heard.




Day and night being now only distinguishable by the aid of the
clock, a constant look-out aloft was kept all through the twenty-
four hours, watch and watch, but whales were apparently very
scarce. We did a good deal of "pelagic" sealing; that is,
catching seals swimming. But the total number obtained was not
great, for these creatures are only gregarious when at their
rocky haunts during the breeding season, or among the ice just
before that season begins. Our sealing, therefore, was only a
way of passing the time in the absence of nobler game, to be
abandoned at once with whales in sight.

It was on the ninth or tenth morning after our arrival on the
grounds that a bowhead was raised, And two boats sent after him.
It was my first sight of the great MYSTICETUS, and I must confess
to being much impressed by his gigantic bulk. From the
difference in shape, he looked much larger than the largest sperm
whale we had yet seen, although we had come across some of the
very biggest specimens of cachalot.

The contrast between the two animals is most marked, so much so,
in fact, that one would hardly credit them with belonging to the
same order. Popular ideas of the whale are almost invariably
taken from the MYSTICETUS, so that the average individual
generally defines a whale as a big fish which spouts water out of
the top of his head, and cannot swallow a herring. Indeed, so
lately as last year a popular M.P., writing to one of the
religious papers, allowed himself to say that "science will not
hear of a whale with a gullet capable of admitting anything
larger than a man's fist"--a piece of crass ignorance, which is
also perpetrated in the appendix to a very widely-distributed
edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible. This opinion,
strangely enough, is almost universally held, although I trust
that the admirable models now being shown in our splendid Natural
History Museum at South Kensington will do much to remove it.
Not so many people, perhaps, believe that a whale is a fish,
instead of a mammal, but few indeed are the individuals who do
not still think that a cetacean possesses a sort of natural
fountain on the top of its head, whence, for some recondite
reason, it ejects at regular intervals streams of water into the

But a whale can no more force water through its spiracle or blow-
hole than you or I through our nostrils. It inhales, when at the
surface, atmospheric air, and exhales breath like ours, which,
coming warm into a cooler medium, becomes visible, as does our
breath on a frosty morning.

Now, the MYSTICETUS carries his nostrils on the summit of his
head, or crown, the orifice being closed by a beautifully
arranged valve when the animal is beneath the water.
Consequently, upon coming to the surface to breathe, he sends up
a jet of visible breath into the air some ten or twelve feet.
The cachalot, on the other hand, has the orifice at the point of
his square snout, the internal channel running in a slightly
diagonal direction downwards, and back through the skull to the
lungs. So when he spouts, the breath is projected forward
diagonally, and, from some peculiarity which I do not pretend to
explain, expends itself in a short, bushy tuft of vapour, very
distinct from the tall vertical spout of the bowhead or right

There was little or no wind when we sighted the individual I am
now speaking of, so we did not attempt to set sail, but pulled
straight for him "head and head." Strange as it may appear, the
MYSTICETUS' best point of view is right behind, or "in his wake,"
as we say; it is therefore part of the code to approach him from
right ahead, in which direction he cannot see at all. Some time
before we reached him he became aware of our presence, showing by
his uneasy actions that he had his doubts about his personal
security. But before he had made up his mind what to do we were
upon him, with our harpoons buried in his back. The difference
in his behaviour to what we had so long been accustomed to was
amazing. He did certainly give a lumbering splash or two with
his immense flukes, but no one could possibly have been
endangered by them. The water was so shallow that when he
sounded it was but for a very few minutes; there was no escape
for him that way. As soon as he returned to the surface he set
off at his best gait, but that was so slow that we easily hauled
up close alongside of him, holding the boats in that position
without the slightest attempt to guard ourselves from reprisals
on his part, while the officers searched his vitals with the
lances as if they were probing a haystack.

Really, the whole affair was so tame that it was impossible to
get up any fighting enthusiasm over it; the poor, unwieldy
creature died meekly and quietly as an overgrown seal. In less
than an hour from the time of leaving the ship we were ready to
bring our prize alongside.

Upon coming up to the whale, sail was shortened, and as soon as
the fluke-chain was passed we anchored. It was, I heard, our
skipper's boast that he could "skin a bowhead in forty minutes;"
and although we were certainly longer than that, the celerity
with which what seemed a gigantic task was accomplished was
marvellous. Of course, it was all plain-sailing, very unlike the
complicated and herculean task inevitable at the commencement of
cutting-in a sperm whale.

Except for the head work, removing the blubber was effected in
precisely the same way as in the case of the cachalot. There was
a marked difference between the quantity of lard enveloping this
whale and those we had hitherto dealt with. It was nearly double
the thickness, besides being much richer in oil, which fairly
dripped from it as we hoisted in the blanket-pieces. The upper
jaw was removed for its long plates of whalebone or baleen--that
valuable substance which alone makes it worth while nowadays to
go after the MYSTICETUS, the price obtained for the oil being so
low as to make it not worth while to fit out ships to go in
search of it alone. "Trying-out" the blubber, with its
accompaniments, is carried on precisely as with the sperm whale.
The resultant oil, when recent, is of a clear white, unlike the
golden-tinted fluid obtained from the cachalot. As it grows
stale it developes a nauseous smell, which sperm does not,
although the odour of the oil is otto of roses compared with the
horrible mass of putridity landed from the tanks of a Greenland
whaler at the termination of a cruise. For in those vessels, the
fishing-time at their disposal being so brief, they do not wait
to boil down the blubber, but, chopping it into small pieces,
pass it below as it is into tanks, to be rendered down by the
oil-mills ashore on the ship's return.

This first bowhead yielded us eighteen tuns of oil and a ton of
baleen, which made the catch about equal in value to that of a
seven-tun cachalot. But the amount of labour and care necessary
in order to thoroughly dry and cleanse the baleen was enormous;
in fact, for months after we began the bowhead fishery there was
almost always something being done with the wretched stuff--
drying, scraping, etc.--which, as it was kept below, also
necessitated hoisting it up on deck and getting it down again.

After this beginning, it was again a considerable time before we
sighted any more; but when we did, there were quite a number of
them--enough to employ all the boats with one each. I was out of
the fun this time, being almost incapable of moving by reason of
several boils on my legs--the result, I suppose, of a long
abstinence from fresh vegetables, or anything to supply their

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