But The Earth Abideth Forever
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For two weeks Vicki weeded the attic and raked closets, stuffing toys into boxes in the front hall and building a compost of clothes in the basement. Then for four days she washed and folded. Finally, though, fall and tag sale arrived. On October 5, I got up early and lined one side of the driveway with bookshelves. On them Vicki stacked clothes: children’s shirts and sweaters priced fifty and seventy-five cents apiece and trousers from fifty cents to two dollars. Down the other side of the driveway were the furnishings of two rooms: lamps, chairs, tables, even two playpens. Against the garage door were toys: a one-cent box, a five, a ten, and finally a twenty-five-cent box.
With Don and Phil at the End of the World
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Standing up straight is getting to be more and more difficult these days; always I am leaning into the gray south wind, the land and the sea are leaning, creaking like Greeland ice teetering, everything pale and on tiptoe and leaning downhill all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and find the whole thing tilting a bit too steeply and myself sent tumbling head over heels through Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, straight past the copper mines of Chile. What would happen if I were to just keep right on going, tumbling like a drunkard down the stairway of the world, all the way down to the bottom?
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What you have done is really wonderful. Fed me, put me up in your room, given me what you call a second set of clothes, but perfect so far as I can see. I was at the end of everything. And you haven’t even asked me who I am.
I’m delighted I could help a fellow, I said. It was very little. I’m delighted, really, just to have an intelligent person to French to.
Your French is magnificent.
In Fragments, In Streams
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Around the Horn: The Journal of a Voyage to San Francisco
On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill on the American River near Coloma, California. When news of the strike reached the East it precipitated the first and greatest Gold Rush; the entire nation was soon in the grip of mass hysteria. An obsession with getting to the gold fields of California by any means and at any cost animated an America that, in the wake of the recent war with Mexico and other events of the 1840s, was fueled with a new sense of patriotism and manifest destiny. From the Eastern states, throngs immediately set out for the “Golden West”; in the next year prospectors numbering in the tens of thousands streamed overland and by ship toward San Francisco.
For Easterners living near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, a sea voyage seemed the most feasible way to go, while those living west of the Alleghenies and inland from the Gulf preferred overland routes. Over five hundred ships set out from Atlantic and Gulf ports in 1849. Of those argonauts traveling by sea, some sailed to Nicaragua, the Isthmus of Panama or various points in Mexico and made their way northward. However, the majority, numbering approximately five thousand, chose the all-water route, a fifteen-thousand-mile sea voyage that took between six months and a year. On February 9, 1849, twentythree-year-old William H. DeCosta and ninety-five other passengers, all lured by the hope of fortune and adventure, boarded the ship Duxbury of Boston, bound for the promised land. Like many argonauts, DeCosta recorded the incidents of the voyage in a journal.
Two hundred and fifty ships sailed from Massachusetts in 1849, one hundred and fifty from Boston alone. Because so many ships were needed for the droves of argonauts, dozens of shipyards on the Eastern seaboard worked around the clock, as all types of ships were repaired and converted to accommodate the rush. Obsolete vessels that had long been retired were once again put to sea, and New England’s whaling fleet was even converted for paying customers by turning cargo bays into temporary—and at times dismal—living space. The Duxbury, built in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 1833, had been through a number of owners and captains in her fifteen years of service. An elegant threemasted vessel ninety-five feet long by sixty-two feet wide, and extremely hard to maneuver, it was said to “require all of Massachusetts Bay to turn.” With the shortage of ships there was also a shortage of captains, and frequently incompetent captains were put in charge of argonaut ships. The numerous disputes between the Captain and passengers of the Duxbury, recorded in DeCosta’s journal, suggest that this may have been the case with Captain William C. Varina who commanded this particular voyage.
Thousands of prospectors formed companies to make their enterprise a group effort. The Duxbury was one of eighty-eight company vessels that sailed from Boston in 1849. She had been chartered by the Old Harvard Company and another unnamed company. There were, however, individuals like DeCosta who booked single passage. During the first year of the Gold Rush the fare for the all-water route to California ranged from seventy-five dollars for a steerage passage to four hundred dollars for a private cabin, and slightly less for partial land routes. Fares were at a premium and ship owners from Maine to the Gulf states charged as much as their consciences would allow.
Throughout the voyage, the Duxbury encountered her share of inclement weather, but the sea could also be very boring, sometimes for days on end. To combat the monotony, passengers fished, kept journals, played cards, told stories and jokes, read, caught birds, and fired their rifles and shotguns at practically anything that happened to pass by. Anything that passed by the ship excited the passengers’ curiosity—a prowling shark, a spouting whale, an encounter with another vessel, or, as they neared Cape Horn, the sighting of a variety of birds.
There was a chronic need for reading material aboard the Duxbury. Reverend Brierly, who acted as chaplain on the voyage, disseminated religious and scientific tracts, and books brought aboard by passengers were in constant circulation. The two shipboard manuscript newspapers—The Petrel and its successor, The Shark—were largely the enterprise of DeCosta, who learned his trade working for a small newspaper in Plymouth, but they also published prose, poetry and cartoons submitted by the passengers. In addition to participating in the publication of the shipboard papers, the argonauts on the Duxbury passed the time with a variety of organized activities. Every morning the Reverend Brierly read a chapter from the Bible, said a prayer and delivered a short sermon. On Wednesdays he held a prayer meeting, on Sundays a class meeting, and on Tuesdays and Fridays he mediated a lyceum to examine moral, ethical and social issues of the day. A drill team, the Duxbury Sea Fencibles, was formed and, at least during the first part of the voyage, practiced with enthusiasm. As on almost all the argonaut vessels, musicians on board got together and formed a band to serenade the passengers. Singing and dancing on the Duxbury was a frequent occurrence and DeCosta attests to the proficiency of the musicians. Popular as it was, however, organized entertainment and even religious instructions eventually lost their appeal as the journey drew on. By the time the Duxbury rounded the Horn and entered the Pacific, such activities had become intermittent.
Jokes and pranks were another way of alleviating the tedium and DeCosta’s journal records several such instances. For mariners, the crossing of the equator was an occasion for fun at the expense of “greenhorn” Yankees. Many argonaut journals describe the pranks that were perpetrated by “Neptune” (usually a member of the ship’s crew, dressed to fit the role) who boarded the ship at the line. Although Neptune’s exploits while a guest on the Duxbury were generally viewed as good fun, we also get a sense of how violent they could be, and of the subsequent friction when some of the passengers didn’t find them amusing.
As a rule the food aboard the Duxbury was like that on most argonaut vessels: awful. The shipboard menu usually included salt pork or mackerel, plum duff (boiled pudding), potatoes and hardtack, a large, unsalted, hardbaked biscuit. Problems involving the “quality and quantity” of food were particularly noteworthy on this voyage. Because of them, a nearmutiny ensued. The Duxbury galley was not equipped to accommodate the over one hundred passengers and crew. The Duxbury argonauts were on short rations during the entire first leg of the journey-from Boston to Rio. Once in Rio they promptly related their experience to the United States consul, who was used to hearing complaints by dismayed argonauts. The consul could do little. The final result was that a number of both passengers and crew left the ship for good and the galley was expanded, so that from Rio to San Francisco the voyagers fared much better.
Rio de Janeiro was the first of only two ports of call on the entire voyage. DeCosta was obviously impressed by the attractive and exotic city, and its inhabitants who thrived on the tourism that the Gold Rush provided. During the years 1849-1850 thousands of California-bound Easterners flooded the city’s hotels, saloons and cultural points of interest.
As the Duxbury sailed southward from Rio, dropping temperatures and the presence of a wide variety of birds heralded the most dangerous part of the voyage: the rounding of the Cape itself. Of the argonaut vessels leaving Boston in 1849, only a handful, mostly smaller vessels, attempted the Strait of Magellan. The majority regarded the longer rounding of the Cape, which took up to forty days, to be the safest route, especially since so many were quite old and only minimally rigged for safety. Although at times the Duxbury faced bitter cold and heavy rain, the experience was not a wholly unpleasant one.
Once the ship made it into the Pacific she was greeted with relatively calm seas. It was customary for the argonauts to stop at either Callao, Peru, or Valparaiso, Chile, to replenish supplies; the Duxbury did neither. Instead Varina decided to call on Juan Fernandez Island, the reputed setting of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Even during the Gold Rush, the handful of inhabitants on the scenic island—which had once been the site of incarceration for Chilean criminals—saw no more than fifty ships, and so treated the passengers on visiting vessels like royalty. By all accounts, the island was a virtual paradise; there was an abundance of wood, fruit, fresh water, fish and game, as well as breathtaking scenery. Easterners were fascinated by the island’s fame. DeCosta and many other argonauts apparently believed Crusoe had been a real person.
From Juan Fernandez to San Francisco, DeCosta’s entries become less frequent and his overall enthusiasm, so evident in the first part of the narrative, wanes. As the Duxbury neared the “promised land,” passengers turned more to themselves, and concentrated on their preparations for disembarking. Weeks before they entered the Golden Gate, the ship was alive with a great flurry of activity as gear was checked, rechecked, and made ready for the gold fields.
On the evening of August 20, the Duxbury ran aground on a reef just north of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, at a place that in Spanish times had been called Punta de Baulenas (Point of Whales). DeCosta says very little about this incident, but in fact it was nearly catastrophe. Luckily, the Duxbury sustained very little damage, and at the next high tide passengers and crew lowered the ship’s boats and maneuvered them to pull her off the rocks. Although she would safely reach her destination the following day, the Duxbury would forever leave her name on the reef and point. Coastal survey charts of 1851 list this point as Duxbury Point and the reef as Duxbury Reef.
The “Journal of a Voyage to San Francisco” is not so much the story of a gold seeker, as of a young man caught up in the spirit of American adventurism. DeCosta stayed in San Francisco for two years, where he held an editorial position on a daily newspaper. Afterwards he returned to his home and family in Charleston, Massachusetts. Ready to settle down, and somewhat bettered in fortune, he established the Charleston Advertiser in collaboration with an old acquaintance. He edited the Advertiser for twenty years. He also served as postmaster of Charleston under President Lincoln, and after his paper went bankrupt he worked as a real estate broker until his death in 1878.
The excerpts that appear here are from a revised version of the “Journal of the Passage Duxbury” that abruptly stops on June 23 with the words, “Journal to the Devil.” DeCosta must have started revising and transferring the early entries sometime after leaving Rio, since the present journal bears the stamp of a Rio stationer. DeCosta’s journal is lively and interesting—valuable to both the historian and to anyone interested in the interactions of a rowdy crew of American adventurers in the mid-nineteenth century. A writer by trade, he had the ability to dramatize even the most routine events. Accuracy of detail was also important to him, however. Notes of wind and weather conditions, as well as the ship’s longitude and latitude, originally prefaced every entry in the journal. However, since they are not necessary to its general interest, they have been deleted from this edited version. In addition, grammar, capitalization and punctuation have been regularized and made consistent with contemporary usage. For example, where DeCosta writes “One of which done some damage,” we have silently changed the past participle “done” to the past tense “did.” Historians may want to consult both versions of the journal in the manuscripts collection of the Huntington Library.
Special thanks to Peter Blodgett of the Huntington for providing us with both versions of the journal and for suggesting a starting point for research. A special thanks also to Irene Stachura of the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park, who went out of her way to investigate the history of the Duxbury Reef. We are additionally indebted to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Bostonian Society, the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and the Vancouver Maritime Museum for providing information on the life of DeCosta and the historical events in which he took part. Many of the footnotes and general information in the introduction are based on material from Oscar Lewis’ Sea Routes to the Gold Fields (Knopf), and Octavius Thorndike Howe’s Argonauts of ’49 (Harvard U.P.), both of which are time-honored classics in the field. A more recent study of argonaut voyages, James P. Delgado’s To California by Sea (University of South Carolina Press), also proved helpful.
Ship Duxbury, February 9th, 1849
Amid the adieus of our friends and the cheers of the spectators, we cast off from the wharf and with a flowing sail ran down the harbor, dismissing our pilot at the low in Sight, at three o’clock, pm, and ere the sun had touched the water in the west, we were far from the sight of land, home, friends, and everything dear with nothing before and around us save the mighty waste of waters. I am again upon the water, but not like most of my fellow passengers, filled with big hopes of a speedy return, bent down with a burden of gold. No—but I go with a hope, a small hope of doing something—what, I may not tell. I have left a home full of kindness and happiness and everything that makes home “sweet home,” and this simply for one object, when that object is gained, the wind will be too slow for my returning spirit; but till gained I must be content to think only of home and forego its many pleasures. Before I left home I knew that ere an hour would pass on ship board, I should be full of regret, and so it is: but I am not ashamed that I feel it or that I express it here, for it fills my mind with calm, pure thoughts, and is sweet food for one’s reflections. At eight o’clock we made the Highland light of Cape Cod, and before daylight were off soundings.
Saturday 10th—It is very rough, but the wind being fair we are flying before it like a frightened deer—now upon the top of a great foaming sea and then dashing across a long dark, blue valley, we again climb to the crest of some great rolling mountain, only again to be hurried from its brink to another frothy valley. The rolling and heaving of the ship has already wrought a mighty change in the faces of the passengers, as it has also in the saloon, between decks—chests, trunks, boxes, etc, are darting hither and thither with the motion of the vessel, in the most beautiful confusion, and as many poor, pale looking devils trying in vain to secure them. But it seems of no use for as soon as they get their chests fairly secured, their trunks break loose, and when their trunks are secure, they break loose themselves, quite often, and go rolling among boots, coats, buckets, broken plates and dippers of boiled rice, on the floor. The effect of this rough weather is also seen on deck. The ship’s sides from morn till night are constantly crowded, and each as he places his head over the rail, or inserts it through the rigging, like a prisoner with his face to the grates, seems anxious to vie with his fellow in paying tribute to Jonah1. The tables today like church in summer afternoons, are very thinly attended; but when the jaws of an hundred men go willingly to work again who will pity the poor cooks.
Sunday 11th—No service today. The minister is too sick to officiate, but has distributed tracts and books and intends, as soon as practicable, to form a bible class.2 We are now in the Gulf Stream. The air and water are warm and it appears very much like summer; and the snow and ice are melting and dropping off our sides and rigging. Great coats are fast being dispensed with. One can scarcely conceive the change that has taken place in so short a period, a day or two ago we were in the midst of winter, but now we are revelling in warm sunshine.
Monday 12th—Saw a sail leeward—a brig. In the morning saw blackfish and porpoises about us, also a rainbow, and the old saying of “rainbow in the morning, etc” was repeated, and will be seen with how much truth. A committee was chosen to draft resolutions for the health, comfort, and government of the passengers. The Captain has also demanded all powder of the passengers to be placed for safe keeping in the magazines. After lying for some time shipping heavy seas, one of which did some damage—washed bathing house overboard, knocked off head and head gear, washed one man overboard, who succeeded in getting on board again by catching hold of some running rigging—two, others were knocked down, one of whom had his head jammed and the other his arm out and a third was knocked down the gangway into the saloon, but without injury. The wheel was carried away which disabled two more men and left us at the mercy of the storm, in which condition we remained till daylight when, the gale abating and the wind veering to the northward, we repaired the wheel and once more proceeded on our voyage with a flowing sail.
Tuesday 13th—The gale of last night has blown us back to the Gulf Stream. We have only one stove in the saloon, around which a few crowd and sit all day deceiving themselves into the belief that there is a fire in it, but they are very much mistaken, it is only a Smoke that they are enjoying.
Thursday 15th—We are now living, or rather staying, like so many hogs from the fact that the cooks can not cook enough to satisfy our voracious appetites: fresh pork is the chief of our living just at this time, and that in very small quantities.3 As soon as a panfull arrives on the table it instantly disappears without apparently diminishing the least appetites of the mob. Our chief cook has thrown up the honors of his office, preferring peace to curses, of which he has had not a few bestowed upon him. There is trouble too among the stewards, and while they are wrangling among themselves, we poor devils are left to hunger and thirst.4 Today the ship’s company has been divided into larboard and starboard sides, one half to eat at a time—we are to have two meals and at night a lunch. The first meal of this announcement was like the previous ones—when the eatables are placed on the table, one dips too deep in the rice, another has no sugar and butter, for which he bawls lustily; a third gets all the beans, and the fourth, who has been waiting patiently for the pudding dish for half an hour, at length receives it, and straining his eyes (for it is dark in the saloon) he at last catches a glimpse of the bottom of the pan, but pudding, plum pudding, never greets his hungry eyes. I mentioned above in one sentence, rice, butter, sugar, beans and pudding, but no one will suppose we have them all at one meal. Oh no, of course not, though we live on double dish, for instance—we have at one time boiled rice and molasses, again we have rusty mackerel and potatoes, then potatoes and salt fish for a change, then beans and pork and again for a change pork and peas, then beef and potatoes and still again for change potatoes and pork, and for luxuries we have pea-coffee and tea, for the sweetening of which we have at times marched in file to the cabin door and had it dealt out to us by the steward, the Captain not thinking us competent to sweeten it ourselves, and so, himself, disperses to us the bounties on board the good Ship Duxbury.5 There’s a big storm brewing, the ingredients of which I shall soon record.
We are all busy in taking up the carpets, airing the bedding, etc. I say all because the greater portion are so doing, but then there are some on board who feel too much riled to attempt it. I was in the same situation half an hour ago, but since the sun has come out, I have entirely recovered and now think that a man who will persist in being cross when the sun shines is unworthy of breathing the pure air of heaven! The sun comes bright from a pure genial sky, the deep blue sparkles, and the wind comes soft from the distance—who would not like the sea today?—so calm and beautiful—to see it as I see it now is worth almost an age of sorrow—to be filled with such calm, pure thoughts. But around me I see many who will not feel or appreciate its many beauties, on the contrary, they seem bound about with bands of gold. I will not say that gold is not my god, for it is, and further that it is the god of almost every man, though there are few that will acknowledge it. I look upon it as a good god and a great operator in human affairs. Gold is charity and makes love, it produces smiling faces, heals the sick and afflicted, and, in fact, does everything great and good—therefore let us call it good, looking for no evil, and leave it, the mighty engine, to revolve everything save the great wheel of time.
Friday 16th—Everyone on board is trying to amuse himself in some way or other but that which is most popular, and which seems to be every man’s chief ambition is “keeping a journal. “6 Not wishing to be an inconspicuous character among them I delve at it with the rest, and this will undoubtedly be a great book of reference.
Sunday 18th—Services by the chaplain today. The prayer was a very feeling one, and it reminded us all very forcibly of home and friends. Every man’s thoughts present seemed to have wandered home; and whose more than mine. On looking into the dark places in the bottom of my chest today, I found a Bible. The Sabbath was always the most pleasant day of the week and this old Bible, and its recollections brought past days and their associations back again.
Monday 19th—This morning we were all thrown into confusion by the cry of “Porpoises!” and on hurrying to the deck found everybody going stark mad. I instantly peeped into the rigging to see the sport. It is impossible to describe the prevailing excitement. The water about us was all alive as they darted by us like so many young devils, bent on enjoying life in their own way; and they did enjoy life from the fact that we did not make soup of a bone of them. They stopped with us about five minutes and then departed, as did the excitement, which their coming occasioned. Singing and recitation in the evening on the house.
Wednesday 21st—Our little steward, Frank Ball, sang a song of his own composition, giving an account of his trials and sufferings on board the Duxbury. It was quite rich. Meeting of the passengers to inquire why they had not received the promised lunch at night. A committee was chosen to request the Captain to serve out navy rations of sugar (2 oz. per day).
Thursday 22nd—This busy Washington’s birthday, we have been as patriotic as circumstances would admit. There was firing in the forenoon and there would have been feasting if we could have got anything to feast on. I got out my gun and then put it away again, without discharging it, not seeing anything on board the Duxbury to excite anyone’s national feelings or fill a camp with glory; in fact, if I could have had my choice in the matter, I should rather have preferred to have been filled with plum pudding. Today among other things we have formed a lyceum, which, from the day, is called the “Washington Lyceum.” It will, undoubtedly, be a great affair, and they will undoubtedly get along together harmoniously. It seems more like summer today than on any previous one- we have got up our main royal, and with light sails number fifteen; and are sliding over the heaving waters as beautiful as an eagle on pinion.
Friday 23rd—A large sulphur bottom whale broke water close to us this morning—he was about 75 or 100 feet in length. The mass of the passengers, or in future, let me say mob, had a fair view of the monster, and were generally filled with wonder and amazement. When our tea was brought down at night, it not being sweet enough, we took our mugs and went in procession to the cabin to get more sugar, in which we succeeded. Our Irish cook pursued one of the stewards fork in hand, through the saloon, at night. He is one saucy chap. If he doesn’t escape from the galley very shortly he will get thrown overboard.
Tuesday 27th—Last night had heavy thunder and lightning. The wind in these parts seems to blow particularly easy, which of course adds to the standing quantity of grumbling. All after eating salt mackerel, beef, and potatoes, are amused with sociable little frays, like the following: The cook hits the steward a rap on the head, then the third mate taps the cook on the nose, and is himself collared by the first mate; then the third mate swears prodigiously, when the mob, rushing forward with projecting eyes to see the sport, are informed that the “din of battle’s past.”
The offensive cook has left the galley, the Lyceum has again met and adjourned, and we have got our rations of sugar.
Wednesday 28th—Duff, plum duff for dinner today—the cry has gone through the ship, and the echo is still ringing in my ears. What a test it will be, why every mans eyes sparkle and one would suppose we had heard the cry of “land ho!” from the mast head. Can all this be occasioned by the anticipation of duff, nasty plum duff, stuff that every man on board would “turn up his nose at,” if at home. Then to see what a bustle this duff business makes—there are a dozen engaged in picking raisins; and John, who makes the duff, has charge of the raisins and fixins, looks careworn and dejected; and it is not to be wondered at, he has to watch the motions of so many fingers, and exhort them severally on the exceeding sinfulness of stealing in their youth, beside dispensing little curses to his numerous friends.
Sunday 4th—Preaching as usual—subject, prayer—Closing prayer by Loveland, who has a license as a Methodist Episcopal to preach. Like a great portion of that class of divines he has been a school master (in a country town of course), is a sailor, and has been in the service of the U.S., both army and navy, and has been two voyages “round Cape Horn!” He is a pretty decent sort of a fellow notwithstanding, and simply because he has “been called by his divine lord and master” to go gold hunting, it should not in the least go to his prejudice and compared with these good men who stay at home and abhor the “filthy lucre.”
Monday 5th—Today being the day for the inauguration of Gen. Taylor, we have the stars and stripes waving at the peak, and Frank Bale has pronounced an oration from the windlass.7 He called upon the masses and was answered by them with cheers.
Thursday 8th—Was boarded by ship (Dutch) bound for Amsterdam from Batavia in 78 days. Had on board the body of a lady passenger who had died on the voyage-would take it home. When the mate’s boat came alongside, seeing so many men he began to grow frightened and would not come on board till hailed by a brother Dutchman. When he came over the side the Captain asked him if he was frightened, to which he replied that he thought he “was taken”-and well he might have thought so, for our side was literally bristling with big dogs. The boat left us taking a barrel of potatoes and one of onions amid the cheers of the stranger and ourselves.
Friday 9th—The Lyceum met again today. Question for discussion-which is the greatest evil, intemperance or slavery. Police Court at night—a young man was tried for stealing 24 hot cakes and convicted. The court was crowded.
Sunday 11th—Preaching by Loveland, on immortality of the soul. While the preacher is going on you will see a few looking very crossly at the sky, some will be solving difficult puzzles, some sound asleep, some on the forecastle grumbling about the provisions, some reading twelve-cent novels, and the remainder are lying on the rail gazing abstractly into the water. When the services close by singing, everyone looks happy, and each sings bass or tenor, or holds their tongues to suit their fancy; and when the benediction is pronounced, the greater portion snore lazily away, some to mix a toddy or medicine, some to go to their sunny or shady spot, and many to go to sleep again. What a lazy, lounging, restless mass we are!
Wednesday 14th—This morning as the vessel was ploughing along on her course, the water to the windward for a space the length of the vessel became strangely agitated. Instantly thousands of flying fish rose from the water, like so many birds, and as they crossed our wake, the noise of their wings sounded like a large flock of fowl.
Thursday 15th—Today after waiting very patiently for about eight hours, we dined in style, on burnt rice and molasses. Don’t we live like fighting cocks on board the Duxbury? To have any idea of bliss someone should have seen me today with plate of tongues and sounds between my knees, and half an onion in my fist. Talk after this of enjoyment, in quiet, pleasant homes on the land, and I shall say Nonsense! But to be here, hear the wind howl and the thundering roar of crashing of plates, tinkling of knives and forks; hear men curse and see them grab potatoes, these, and not these only, are among the sublime and beautiful enactments on board the good ship Duxbury.
Friday 23rd—Someone has been to the raisin kegs and carried off the contents of two of them, which has got up quite a little bobbery. The Captain talks quite ferocious about it, though there’s no danger of his throwing anyone overboard. If he does, I hope it will not be me, because at just this time it would be decidedly unpleasant.
Saturday 24th—The water in the casks being low, we stopped up the scuppers, and the decks soon being full of water, we filled from it sixteen casks and the remainder was left for general wash. Our decks soon became a monster-wash-tub, there being but little less than a hundred using it at a time. What a sight to behold, such a one as is rarely seen in these or any other diggings—yes an hundred dirty-faced ragamuffins, some half-stripped, and some a little more than half—and the modest and unassuming, the sweet and angelic, Mrs. Bridget McKenney, wash-board in hand among them—yes the delicate, and barefooted Mrs. McKenney. Ah! tis too much for a poor mortal to look upon, and I’ll turn away, just as the divine creature pulls the plug from the scuppers, and go to the stern of the ship and watch the long mark of soap suds that we leave behind us upon the water. At night a meeting was held and committee chosen to wait upon the Captain, represent grievances and demand three meals a day. The result was that the Captain complied in part. We are to have three meals and the Capt. is to preside at one of the tables, and we are to have duff twice a week hereafter. Till I have seen the operation of affairs I shall defer expressing my joy.
Sunday 25th—Being in the close vicinity of the line, some of the green ones took it into their heads to call old Neptune on board, and violating all the old established customs, sent for him just as dusk, and ere we had scarce disposed of our suppers, if nasty tea and hard bread can be called supper, the old gentleman was among us. It was dirty sport, got up in poor taste, and quite disgusting to any one possessing a small quantity of common sense, consequently it became very popular. The first we knew of the affair, one of the passengers was thrown down on the floor of the saloon and dragged fore and aft the length of the ship by the feet, some one at the same time blacking his face with soot. When this was done no one had the least idea that it was in imitation of the visit of Neptune, it being so mean an imposition, but rather thought it some private joke. Ere an hour had elapsed, the “victims” numbered half of the ship’s company. It took till about three o’clock the next morning to do all hands brown. It was in sight to look upon, but not one that anyone would care about being a hero in. Some armed themselves with big knives and sat upon their chest the greater part of the night to defend themselves—and others brandished clubs and boot jacks, and lay in their berths, but were finally dragged out like starved rats, pale and sleepy, and put through. The one who started this “delightful sport” as he called it himself, was the largest man on board, as well as the most sizeable booby, and when he was proposed as a subject for operation, became very indignant at first, but finding that of no use, turned a precious coward, and seizing a big club rushed to his room vowing vengeance on any man who should molest him; but they did do him brown although he rejoiced in the title of Jack the Giant.8
Monday 26th—Line jokes are all the rage today. This morning the Captain and others were seen looking through the glass very intently at something apparently on the sky and water, and on being asked what he was looking for said he was trying to get a sight of the line, which he said would soon come in sight. This seemed to be very natural to some of the green ones—at last the line did come in sight, the Captain seeing it very plain, but with great self denial, soon surrendered the glass to those anxious for a sight, but strange to say many of them could not see it. And it was thought by the lookers-on that the glass was not set right and so altered it to every possible focus, and swept the sky and water high and low, far and wide, but with no success. Some fifteen or twenty looked at the line, which afforded us no small amount of sport. The Petrel was issued, a small weekly the size of letter sheet, devoted, not to “literature and the fine arts,” but to fun, for the passengers of the ship Duxbury.9 It takes extremely small things to please us, pent up as we are here in so small a space. The cry of “duff!” “larboard side,” and stale jokes put us in our tip top spirits, so there is no danger of the Petrel’s failing in its mission. Success, say we to the Petrel!
Wednesday 28th—Today we are quite surprised to find out that we have got quite a band of music. They have been in some dark corner till now. They have two clarionets, a flute and trombone, and a violin. They have tooted away today very hard to make up for lost time. It’s very good though! Steward fell down and broke his head.10
Thursday 29th—Today Tiger, a dog belonging to one of the passengers, ran mad. Wasn’t there a scampering for the riggin! While running fore and aft biting at the riggin and the sides of the ship, he was seized by his master and another and thrown overboard. He lived but a few moments after touching the water making no attempt to swim. At noon, it being calm, and someone challenging me to jump overboard, I did so. The shark-fearers enjoyed for me a genuine shudder, but the water feeling extremely nice, I did not think it worth while to return the compliment. This broke the ice, for there had been much talk about it for some days, yet none had gathered courage for the first plunge, and in a few seconds there were 25 or 30 in the water. We were in the water about fifteen minutes, and in this time each did his best to astonish his neighbor. At night the Duxbury Sea Fencibles met for the first time for drill. The company varies in number from 50 to 10, and was got up to pass away time. Lieut. Frank is drill officer, and the way we “ground arms” and march round the Poopdeck is rushing. My first “order arms” was upon the toe of a barefooted ranger by my side. I’ll bet it drove the idea from his head of being raised to commander in chief of the California Legion.
Thursday 5th—We have undoubtedly got the S.E. trades which revives everyone much after having a fortnight’s calm. The Duxbury Sea Fencibles were again on drill today. Prayer meeting at night, and at the same time the mob are dancing cotillions and country dances on the forecastle, and below they are playing brag for fivecent pieces. A meeting was held today to take into consideration the practicability of going overland from the port into which we may go—Rio Janeiro or St. Catherine’s to Valparaiso on the Pacific.11 About thirty wish to go, to each of whom the Captain will give $10 and provisions. If anyone goes I shall be one of the party.
Friday 13th—As we draw near the land, letter writing has become all the rage, and every chest and box, barrel and board on board the ship has been put to service. Many of these now laboring with the pen have not before put it over the paper, and consequently have not got the hang of it. Many of them give up in despair, deferring their writing till they get into port, when they will go ashore and, ten chances to one, forget father, mother, brother, sister and perhaps their dear ones. But there are others of more courage, who after spoiling a number of sheets commence anew by writing upon a slate, thence transferring it very carefully to paper, and when, smiling, they finish by adding “yours sincerely,” or “affectionately,” they upset their ink bottle, which says as plain as ever—”Finis”
Tuesday 17th—At daylight this morning found ourselves inside of Cape Frio and about 60 miles from Rio harbor. At noon a wind springing up we saw the shore dawn, a grand and lofty range of mountains, upon the sides of which we can see convents with their glittering crosses, villas with their orange groves, and a thousand little mountains, rising one above another, from the great mass, till they are lost in the clouds, all covered with the richest verdure. At their base are long white, sandy beaches, here and there darkened by cragged rocks, upon which the sea rolls, throwing the spray high in the air, to sparkle and fall in the glow of a Rio sunset. At night close in to the light, but our Captain not being acquainted with the harbor, we stood “off and on” for daylight.
Wednesday 18th—There are thirty-three vessels in sight bound in with us, of which there are fifteen or eighteen American vessels, from which float the stars and stripes. At dusk a breeze sprang up from the land accompanied with rain. It was also very dark, and the light from the city, although we are ten or twelve miles distant, is distinctly seen. By ten o’clock the wind had increased to a gale and, being in rather a dangerous situation, the greater portion of the fleet ran to sea again. At twelve o’clock we had a heavy typhoon which lasted a few minutes, and was followed by two others soon after. There was only one vessel of the whole fleet besides ourselves that held their own through the night. Yesterday every one on board was ragged, wore one boot and one shoe, and wore hats without rims, today with but few exceptions, they are spruce young and old men, some wearing collars after the sideboard style, some with old-fashioned sharp pointed ones, some with lay-downs and some without any at all—then some wear caps, some straws and some the hats they laid on the first night out—and their boots are all blacked, and their faces shaved, and they are all waiting and quite ready to go ashore. But it is night and they are all disappointed; it is raining and blowing gale, and they will have to wait till tomorrow at least before they will be able to astonish the citizens of Rio.
Thursday 19th—This morning after banging about the entrance of the harbor all night and being in danger of going ashore we find ourselves on a lee shore, with the choice left us of going on the rocks and going “to pot” or carrying sail to weather the “twins,” the western point of the outer harbor. We of course adopted the latter, succeeding far beyond our expectations, and we weather the point of the Island by a few rods, upon which the breakers foamed masthead-high. I have no doubt that if some young ladies had been present, they would have pronounced the Duxbury a vulgar, ill-bred ship, for she did show her bottom. At six o’clock we passed the Sugar Loaf on our left, then a big fort on the right which hailed us. When we were fairly tied up by the mass, the yards squared, we had time to look about us, and we saw English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian menof-war, and the States were represented by the brig-of-war Perry and the frigate Savannah which vessel we left in the dry-dock at home and the sight of which made us feel at home directly.
Then came the custom house officers on board, grim men, chock full of dignity, who ordered our colors to the foremast. Then the health officers, and then another boat with a permit from the Emperor allowing us to go ashore, which said that the Brazilian government was “jealous of their rights,” but the boat had scarce left the side when our boats were in the water and dashing away pell mell for the shore. This was the signal for the shore boats to come alongside, which they did, entirely surrounding the vessel, fighting and jabbering like so many cab and hackmen, at home, for passengers. Each boat was fitted up very neatly with an awning and manned by two blacks, who charged ten cents to pull you ashore. I went ashore among the aristocracy in the Captain’s boat, landed among the darkeys, and there, and in the five days afterwards, I saw the sights. First I went to the navy yard, the filthy place of places, where everything was in ruins, the buildings were all half-finished, as were the greater portion of the vessels, and in fact everything about the establishment. Adjoining the navy yard was the bishop’s palace and gardens. The gardens were very fine—contained a fig tree, an oleander, a bunch of marigolds, a few sun-flowers, a tall, lank prince’s feather and a few poppies—very fine. The interior of the palace was chaste and elegant, and contained many beautiful fixtures, but the exterior was shabby in the extreme, and reminded us of the inquisition in older times. The greater portion of the workmen in the yard were blacks and worked in “chain gangs,” fettered in couples, being slaves.12 Then we visited the aqueduct, so old that they do not know when it was built, probably the finest in the world, by which the water is carried to every portion of the city and of the best quality-in jets from hundreds of fountains, around which may be seen from morn till night, jabbering like so many blackbirds, men, women and children balancing on their heads a burden that would crush any one but a Rio negro.
We went to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, at San Christoria, some orange groves, statuary, beautiful ponds and flowers. But the Emperor being sick we were not permitted to see him or the Empress, a beautiful Italian lady, we only saw their pictures. Then we went to a bull-fight and saw two or three chaps tossed up a bit—a great humbug. Then to the theatre, saw sham scenery and acting of which we could not understand a word, it was good. Then we went to church at the cathedral, where the people get shockingly humbugged, and where the young maidens sit and exhibit their charms to the vulgar gaze of the mob. No one but the females sit during service, and they like a tailor at his work.
The number of churches and convents of Rio is very great and wonderfully out of proportion to the amount of population; and sorry am I to say, sadly contrasting with the state of religion, and public and private morality. The churches are handsome, after their own fashion, which is of the gilded, gingerbread order—all wood and plaster, covered over with paint and tinsel, and rather the models of, than in reality, fine buildings. For a whole week we went about like roaming lions among these natives, seeing and being seen, and enjoying ourselves very generally, and when on Wednesday the 25th we were ordered to be on board that night, as we were to sail the next morning, we felt very reluctant to do so.13
Thursday 26th—This morning we find that eight of the passengers have left us, three sailors and the third mate.14 At eight o’clock we were under way and after getting the password to get by the forts, we ran down the harbor with a fair wind—leaving four more of the passengers ashore who were not on board in season—and in company with the frigate Savannah, ship Charlotte, and barque Edward Fletcher, stood to sea, all bound for California. In the afternoon we were passed by the Fletcher, her band at the time playing “Love Not” and “Sweet Home.” By dark the Sugar Loaf had faded from view, and we were once more with a flowing sail upon our course.
Friday 27th—Tonight for the first time soft-tack was served out according to our new bill of fare. In Rio, they, the mob, had kicked up a fuss in earnest about the provisions; they waited upon the American Consul, and got some information. He could not act in the least, and for redress we should have to apply at home. So it was concluded to take the affair in our own hands. So they cursed the Captain and threatened to throw him overboard. At first he was quite brave, and threatened to leave the ship, but he soon came to his senses, got up a bill of fare and more provisions and this soft-tack is the result. But this soft-tack has put me in office and honors heaped upon me. I was unanimously elected Captain of the soft-tack mess and immediately entered upon its duties which are not very arduous, though a little inconvenient, for while I am going around distributing the hot cakes the mob are diving into the tea bucket—when I get through and go to a little tea to wash my crust down it is all gone and my tin-foot rattles on the bottom of the basket. Hereafter when honors are conferred, may they be deferred till after tea.
Monday 30th—Sea sickness has become quite prevalent again and the tables are once more deserted. Oranges and bananas are the chief of our living at this time.
Monday [May] 7th—This morning two of the passengers being in a squabble and the mate interfering, was knocked down and thrashed, which served him right. This is the first fight we have had on board, but when one is on a passage round Cape Horn, there is no room for moral reflections, and I leave them to rejoice over their broken noses and swelled cheeks.
Wednesday 9th—Birds of every description are about us all the time, and it is nothing but bang, bang, from morn till night. Sea hens and cape pigeons were killed in large numbers. Porpoises and albatross added to the excitement.
Friday 11th—Saw for the first time a penguin of large size.
Monday 14th—Caught three large mollymocks. Professor Smith, one of the stewards, fell down and scalded himself today, and a man fell from the fore top stairway on the bottom of a boat that was turned over on deck, was injured quite badly.
Friday 18th—Wind S.W. and heavy under double-reefed topsails and staysail. The staysail was blown in pieces-have had snow and hail squalls through the day.
Thursday 24th—At two o’clock made the land of Cape St. John’s, Staten Land; ran down and passed the Cape at eight o’clock. There is not much excitement today on making the land; no one has broken his neck in hanging to get a sight of it, as on a former occasion, but everyone went on deck in the most staid and sober manner, with coat buttoned to the throat and hat on, looked at the land, speculated to the length of seven words, shuddered and then went below, to “turn a Jack,” or relate some dismal tale of Cape Horn! There was in fact nothing in the sight of this land to raise anyone’s spirits. If there had been it would have been visible in some of us, for it takes but a little thing to amuse us in our present situation. It presented a long range of mountains, crowned from base to summit with snow, which looked barren and lonely in the extreme. As we passed the Cape at about eight o’clock, we witnessed one of the grandest but most heart chilling scenes imaginable. From the west the clouds—not such clouds as go scampering over the green hills of New England, but black clouds bound with bands of fire and borne on so with the power of the united engines of the earth—were rolling away in broken piles with almost the speed of lightning, and sinking to the water were lost in the gloom of the unmasked east. As lightning darts across the sky and seems to separate the heavens as it lights the icy peaks beside us, down which the wind rushes, boiling the water about us—we hear the screeching of the sea birds, the chafing of the sea upon the near strand and the ship careening darts away like a frightened thing pursued by a legion of hot breathed devils. Tonight when passing the Cape we were logged eleven knots, not a slow pace for an old eel pot like the Duxbury.
Saturday 26th—Snow and hail squalls again today, which has kept the crew very busy in clearing the decks. Today in the midst of a snow storm, the Captain set one of the sailors, a Portuguese boy, at work in sweeping the snow from the poop-deck. The Boy went to work but never having seen snow or cold weather before, soon became cold, worked away, but cried like a child.
Saturday [June] 2nd—We have had another rumpus today, but the first since we came out of Rio. It broke out in the forecastle, all the sailors having mutinied because they had no molasses for their rice. The crew “turned to again” after a short time, when it broke out again with redoubled violence in the saloon when the pantry was broken open, and the Captain coming forward received a bountiful supply of curses (not justifiable) in reply to which the Captain threatened to “heave the ship to and let her lay till she rotted,” but some one just before him meekly suggesting that he might “heave her to and be d—d,” he wisely decided that molasses was a very palatable addition to rice.
Thursday 14th—In the middle of the forenoon our eyes were greeted by the sight of shoal of blackfish and a whale. The blackfish came close alongside, within a few feet of the ship, and there being a number of rifles on deck at the time, some of the fish carried off quite a number of bullets, one received six, which undoubtedly shortened his breath a few days. Albatross took the hook and in return were taken themselves. Capie’s occasionally fell screeching in the water.15
Friday 15th—At two o’clock we made the land of the island of Juan Fernandez. The Captain leaving it optional with the passengers whether or not they stop at this place to water, a meeting was called, when it was unanimously voted to stop. In compliance with this vote we ran down under the island and stood on and on till daylight. And now everyone is in spirits at the prospect of setting foot on the island of the far famed Robinson Crusoe.16
Saturday 16th—This morning being close under the land, we ran in for the bay or watering place, and at about eight o’clock came to anchor. When within about a mile of the shore we were boarded by a live Yankee from the state of Maine who has lived on the island for two years, and is now making fortune in freighting the passengers on shore from the California ships who come here to water. Seven ships have already been in and gone out again, and two others have arrived here today since we came to anchor: The barque Kirkland of Baltimore with 73 passengers and the hermaphrodite brig Emily Boume of N. Bedford with 16 ditto, all like ourselves, well and hearty. As soon as our anchor had fairly touched the bottom, we were in a boat and on our way to the shore, gun in hand and knapsack on our back, and ripe for adventure. As soon as the boat touched all shore we were on the sand shaking hands with an ancient grey-headed Chilean that one might easily have fancied Robinson Crusoe himself—though there were a few years intervening between his and the present time. From the Yankee we soon learned that there were at the present time eight males and four female adults on the island, beside a goodly number of dark-eyed children, so sweet that we could not help tempting them to our side with a biscuit and then kissing them. These few families lived in grass houses. About these miserable huts and bordering the bay, is a level piece of ground cut into patches by scores of babbling brooks, that come down the mountains. This piece of ground was entirely covered with wild turnips and an herb of the most fragrant kind, whose sweet perfume is constantly floating on the breeze and greets the sense at every step. Large quantities of this herb was taken on board to make tea of, the fragrance of which constantly prevails between decks and is really delightful and refreshing. Peaches in their season are produced in great abundance growing without cultivation all over the island. Bordering this level place and rising to the height of two or three thousand feet are mountains whose peaks are worn smooth by the constantly travelling of the wild goats which abound here. As soon as we had looked about us a little we left the crowd and started for the mountains, when after climbing for about two hours we gained the top of one of the highest, the view from which was the most grand we ever witnessed. The bay and beach below presented a grand panorama of green and blue only interrupted by many streams that leaped from cliff to cliff. After satiating our eyes with this grand wild scenery, we commenced our descent and soon arrived at the bottom without accident, and were by the side of one of the brooks when it commenced raining. But being little disturbed by this, we pulled the bread and beef from our pouch, placed it on a rock and then stepping a few feet aside and cutting a large leaf of the rhubarb species which was of ample size to cover us and our fixins we set it over us and composed ourselves over our dinner.
We must not forget to mention that we saw a herd of wild horses, among which were some very beautiful colts. They allowed us to come quite near to them, so near that we could see their bright flashing eyes, their distended nostrils and the symmetry of their well-rounded and beautiful limbs. When they had become quite satisfied with observing us, they stamped their feet, curved their beautiful necks, snorted, and then erecting their long tails and manes, dashed away, causing the tramp of their feet to echo in the far-off mountains. And we saw also a drove of asses, winding in single file along the side of an almost perpendicular cliff, like so many machines in a diorama. When we arrived at the landing it was nearly dark and some of the passengers were hurrying on board while a portion were making preparations for spending the night in the convicts’ caves. These caves were dug from the solid rock at the base of the ridge bordering the bay, by the Chilean government some time ago, and used by them as a refuge for convicts, at which time the island was in a more flourishing condition than at the present time. They built a large fort, a number of houses, and dug the before-mentioned underground caverns besides laying out little streets and paving them, the remains of all of which are still to be seen tho’ almost passed into oblivion. The walls of the fort are grown over with weeds and about it here and there, lay old rusty guns, long ago dismounted and half buried in the ground.
This project of the Chileans was an entire failure, for after having got about 250 convicts on the island, and not having a sufficient garrison to guard them, they rose up en masse, drove their guards to two war vessels lying in the bay, and took charge of the fort. The ships departed leaving the convicts in possession of the island. A short time after, an American whaler touching at the bay for water, they went on board of her and were taken to Peru, on the main. After this the Chilean government placed a man on the island, with his family, to hold possession.
It being now dark we struck a light and a fire and in a short time these prisons became light and warm and the seat of the most reckless mirth. Pots were soon suspended over the fire, from which came the fragrance of the native herb and the sizzling of donkey meat.
On going on board again which we did about eight o’clock, we found breakfast ready and, there arriving at the same time a party who had spent the night in another cave, we were soon busily at work. Some of the no-go-ashore’s having caught a lot of fish yesterday, there is to be a fish dinner today. Fish are caught here in any quantity. We got orders to be on board at two o’clock, as we were to sail. After this we went on shore again, climbed the mountains once more, sported a little, kicked up some shells, saw a few goats, got some mint and berries, drank a little more water, got as tired as yesterday, visited one or two of the huts and then hastening to the landing where we found all the water on board, all the passengers of the Kirkland gone, the surf beating heavier than in the morning, the wind coming bleak and cold from the mountains, the remaining passengers of the Duxbury huddled together in a little tired group with blue lips and few words, small bundles of mint, double and single guns, wild turnips and goat skins, and the night coming on gloomy and forbidding. As soon as we were fairly on board, the anchor was hove up, the jib hoisted and, falling off, our topsails filled and the old ship was once more ploughing the dark waters of the Pacific. So ends our visit at the island.
Tuesday 19th—The greater portion of the mob are engaged in counting their losses in spoons, knives and forks, mugs, tin pots, and so forth, forgetting the loss of such little things as towels, hatchets, blankets and birds bills and wing bones. Thieves go about like the roaring lions on board the Duxbury, only they don’t roar.
Thursday 21st—Two amiable Christians were slightly out of tune today and threw vial of wrath at one another, very harmoniously. A notice calling the mob to the sunny side of the Lone Star,18 to see what measures would be taken in regard to the celebration of the Fourth of July, was responded to, when a committee was chosen to make preparations.19
Friday 22nd—At twelve o’clock we made the island of St. Felix and as we passed it in the afternoon, St. Ambrose was seen beyond, both of which we ran down with the setting sun.
Saturday 30th—Today the program for the celebration of the Fourth was posted: The bells of the ship are to be rung half an hour at sunrise. At ten o’clock we are to assemble around the Lone Star, when “Hail Columbia!” will be sung—prayer by the chaplain—Address by Col. Bowles—Ode by Frank Ball, more singing and so forth. Then they will dispense, meet again in the Saloon and eat gingerbread. In the evening there will be dancing. But I forgot to mention that a national salute is to be fired.
Sunday July 1st—Today preaching by the chaplain—subject, swearing. The subject was treated in a masterly style, and the way he stirred up the Christians and sinners with a very long pole, was decidedly beautiful. It was not, of course, meant for me, as I belong to neither of the above classes. Today seems really like Sunday—it is the first really pleasant day we have had since we came round the Cape, though we did have rain squalls in the morning. There was also a very general attendance at church; and this is the second time that the decks have been still during service. To be sure there was one fellow directly under the preacher’s nose repairing his suspender; and another by the name of DeCosta, rigging his bonitre line; but these things were small things and no one was disturbed, all listened attentively, and then went away to consume large quantities of plum duff!
It was a beautiful moonlight night and if any one had observed they might have seen the Captain courting Mrs. Bridget McKenney over the quarterrail.20 We do not pretend to say that he had any right so to do, we only say that he was so doing.
Wednesday the Fourth of July—At sunrise the “Star-spangled Banner” floated at our peak and a salute was fired. At eight we marched in single file by the Lone Star to windward and each received as much gingerbread as he could lug. At night we commenced dancing, but showers coming up we abandoned it. At twelve o’clock we closed the performances of the fourth.
Sunday 8th—Preaching today as usual. Subject, intemperance. The rummies kicked quite ferociously after he had ended. About the time of his commencement one of the mob sat behind him stirring gin and water, but in return for this he got stirred up with a very long and sharp pole, and went off in a piff. The Captain distributed treats today, wishing to wash out the sins of the past week; but at night he was as deep in Satan’s ways as ever. He courted our lady till nine in the evening, on the weather quarter. He seems to admire Broad Street beauties. Gymnastics at night, and singing. We heard the chaplain remark that there was no one present at the Bible class in the afternoon. The Christians of the Duxbury have grown sadly deficient of late.
Tuesday 10th—At four o’clock pm we crossed the Equinoctial Line. This time our crossing the line was a far more pleasant time than we had on the other side, in the Atlantic. There was no dragging, daubing or ducking, but the evening was passed very pleasantly in dancing cotillions, and country dances, after which singing.
Thursday 19th—Today we have had a great farce enacted. Someone obtained permission to take off a couple of planks from the main hatch that we might obtain light and air between decks, and they were taken off shortly after. The Captain seeing them off said that he gave no one liberty to remove them, and so told the carpenter to put them on again. The passengers at the time told him they would rip them off again as soon as nailed down. They were as good as their word, and ere the rap of the hammer had died away they were off again. As soon as it was done the Captain ordered the mate to call all hands, shorten sail and heave the ship to, which order was obeyed amid the cheers of the passengers. The Captain then said he should give up the command of the ship, but finding this suited them very much, he very soon changed his mind, not caring to have the mate in his place, for whom the cry was loud and long, and when he stated that, if the Captain gave up the ship he would accept the command he received three times three, while the Captain received a groan. All the sails but the topsails, spanker and fortopmast staysail were furled. The Captain then came into the waiste and wished to know who was in favor of order, when the cry went up “all are in favor of air and light also, and will have it!” The Captain then took himself off again and relapsed into a brown study, receiving the taunts of the mob like a hero. All of them had decided that if the ship was not put on her course, they would make Mr. Bradbury captain and if necessary put the Captain in irons, to guard against his threats of blowing up the ship, and so forth—which I believe never worried anyone much. Again a solemn council was called, and statements made which placed the hero in a very ridiculous position. Feeling very much ashamed of himself, he attempted retreat from the brave statement he had made: that unless the passengers came forward and acknowledged themselves in the wrong and promised order in future, he would let the ship lay till she rotted. This of course everyone refused, and scanted the idea, not wishing to make acknowledgements for right acts. After much talk which resulted in some deep probes into the Captain’s life, the parties separated and shortly afterwards the Captain chose the wise part and made sail.
Friday 20th—The wind W. and a heavy gale which continued till 4 the next morning, when it hauled to the South. Making sail, we were once more on our course with a heavy choppy sea which made the old ship dance again. This gale was as heavy as any we have had and we took more water on deck than on any previous gale, there being a very ugly sea running.
Monday 23rd—One would suppose that we were to land tomorrow from the bustle and preparation on board. The various companies are patching and mending their boots, painting etc., and all are busy in making knapsacks, polishing big knives and so forth.21
Sunday [August] 19th—A very thick fog with light wind. Made the land at ten in the forenoon; about twenty miles to the N. of St. Francisco. Ran down the shore and passed Point Reyes and came to anchor near the shore on the outer bar at the entrance of Francisco bay, in 15 fathoms. Saw shoals of fin-back, right, humpback and sperm whales. The water is literally alive with them. We saw, in number, more than all we had seen on the voyage put together. We also saw seals, sharks, pelicans, seaparrots, gulls, ducks, and almost every description of quick-wing fowl.
Monday 20th—We prove not to be in the situations that we supposed ourselves yesterday. In the morning thick fog and cannot see the land. Went ashore and got some good water, killed pelicans and other sea fowl in any number; saw a grizzly bear, deer and wild cattle. Clearing up at noon. Saw the lay of the land. Got under way and ran down the shore with a one knot breeze at 5 pm the lead masking eight fathoms, struck twice on the reef of rocks supposed to be point Bonitre. Came immediately to anchor as soon as she stopped rubbing.22
Tuesday 21st—Thick fog and no land in sight. Left the ship in the morning in the Captain’s boat and went in search of the harbor. Landed, and seeing rather too many bear tracks to look sociable, and, having no firearms with us, embarked again and coasted along the shore. Met another boat from the ship steering for the shore. Clearing up partially, saw three sails, seaward, for which we steered. Boarded the nearest one, which proved to be the U.S. Surveying schooner Ewing, (formerly a pilot boat on the New York station) which left the harbor this morning bound up the coast. Got information of the bearings of the harbor, news and papers from St. Francisco, and returned on board. Lay becalmed till just at night, when a light breeze sprung up we ran down the shore and came to anchor off Point Bonitre for the night.
Wednesday 22nd—Got underway at daylight and stood in for the mouth of the harbor with a light wind. At 9 am opened the mouth of the harbor, passed the fort, came in sight of the shipping, and poking our jibboom through the forest of masts, we came to anchor in front of the town, at 12 pm.23 We are to the end of our journey, are we in the promised land? Well, what of it?
Thursday, Friday—Saw the sights and on Saturday went to work in the office of the Pacific News—intending by so doing to realize a fortune in a few days.
1. Sea sickness was common throughout the seven-month voyage. In addition, thirty cases of mumps and fifteen cases of measles were recorded.
2. The Rev. Mr. B. Brierly acted as chaplain on the voyage. Each morning he read a chapter in the Bible, said a prayer, and delivered a brief sermon to those passengers who chose to attend. In addition, he held an organized prayer meeting on Wednesdays, a class meeting on Sundays, a lyceum on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in the course of the trip presented a small library of religious and scientific tracts to the passengers. Brierly would eventually settle in San Jose, send for his family, and act as chaplain to the California Assembly.
3. Several days out from Boston it was discovered that the cooking stove was inadequate for the number of passengers. Consequently they received two sparse meals per day.
4. Although DeCosta only briefly mentions the friction between certain individuals, other accounts recall that the entire trip was filled with friction and outright fighting, both among the ship’s crew and between the passengers.
5. Captain Varina’s poor treatment of the passengers in regard to quality and quantity of rations on the first leg of the journey is well documented. The discontent of both passengers and crew prompted petition after petition with little response. A number of passengers would lodge a formal complaint with the American consul in Rio (The consul frequently heard such complaints from emigrant Californians).
6. Keeping a journal, whale and dolphin watching, fishing, bird catching, shooting, reading, card playing, drinking, swimming, were the primary ways that the passengers abourt the Duxbury dealt with the tedium of weeks at sea.
7. 0n this date General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), military hero of the Mexican War, was inaugurated as the 12th President of the United States.
8. Tricks and jokes (some quite impractical) occurred throughout the voyage. Contemporaneous journals of argonauts tell of similar incidents on board other vessels.
9. The Petrel and later the Shark were short publications edited by DeCosta. They were written out by hand and contained poetry, stories, cartoons, and gossip submitted by the passengers. The Petrel was issued every Monday while the Shark, making its first appearance on July 18, was published only occasionally.
IO. Like just about every vessel traveling from the east coast to California, the Duxbury carried a band that was comprised of its own members. Singing and dancing took place almost every evening. Many of DeCosta’s entries end with a short mention of these activities.
11. Many sea-going argonauts chose not to round Cape Horn and instead took land routes from various points in Central and South America. When they arrived on the Pacific side they would either wait for their original ship or, more commonly, catch another one. The most utilized overland routes started at Vera Cruz and Chihuahua in Mexico or ran through Panama and Nicaragua. There is no mention of a practical route from Rio or St. Catherine’s to Valparaiso.
12. All accounts New England visitors were often horrified at the sight of slaves and slave markets in Rio.
13. Rio was a large city that was accustomed to Americans. Its inhabitants went out of their way to entertain emigrants to California, whose numbers for some months during the Gold Rush averaged twelve to fifteen hundred.
14. The passengers and crew that left the ship in Rio did so because of the inadequate food supply.
15. AIbatross and other birds were caught with hook and bait.
16. Juan Fernandez Island, the setting of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, is fifteen miles long and four miles wide. By all accounts it was a tourist’s delight, a virtual paradise, blessed with a great variety of fruits and awe-inspiring scenery.
18. The Lone Star was a little clipper craft approximately 36 to 40 feet long belonging to Lot Wheelwright, one of the passengers. She was fastened to the deck of the Duxbury for the duration of the trip. Roughly one third the length of the Duxbury, the craft was an odd and imposing feature.
19. Typically passengers and crews paid little attention to national holidays and shoreside political events in the nineteenth century. However, Forty Niners were an exception for celebrations of national holidays aboard argonaut vessels were often elaborate and festive.
20. The passenger list includes Mr. and Mrs. McKenney.
21. There was almost hysterical activity weeks before landing in San Francisco.
22. The Duxbury ran aground on a reef off what in Spanish times was called Punta de Baulenas (Point of Whales). After this mishap the reef was renamed Duxbury Reef, and the point, Duxbury Point. Coastal survey charts of 1851 show the new names which still appear on coastal maps today. The reef is a notorious danger spot, the site of numerous shipwrecks over the years.
23. DeCosta is referring to the Presidio, the fort established by the Spanish in 1776 for defense of the Golden Gate. By DeCosta’s time the fort was an American army garrison.
Go Slowly and You Arrive
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My first morning in India. I wake up at dawn and take a motor rickshaw to Old Delhi: just any street in Old Delhi, I tell the driver. It is as if I walk through familiar photographs and movies: men wash themselves at pumps, brush their teeth with sticks, sleep on rope beds; women prepare tea on open fires, sweeping a little space in front of doors; children run about; the continuous movement of people around carts past cows between rickshaws, seemingly without beginning and without end, contained only by two- and three-storey buildings of ground-level shops, upper-level living quarters and storage areas.
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The Old Lady
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I had been reading The Arabian Nights at the fire station. At the turn of a peg in his side, no, with no more than a cut with a golden chain over the neck this marvellous black horse would rise to take his rider into the skies. His manger was filled with well-winnowed sesame and barley, his trough held fresh water perfumed with roses. As I read these words, I heard two heavy explosions close by.
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In the Peter Weir film Dead Poets’ Society Robin Williams plays prep-school teacher John Keating, whose theatrical talents and fresh attitude inspire his students to think for themselves. During their first class discussion of poetry, Keating tears out the introduction to the “J. Evans Prichard” textbook. Later, he stands on his desk and encourages each of his students to do likewise to “get a different perspective.” Keating’s popularity inspires a small group from his class to look through an old yearbook, where they discover their teacher’s affiliation with the “Dead Poets’ Society” when he was a student, and they proceed to recreate the society, gathering to read poetry in a cave not far from the school. While physically not distant, the cave is an exotic place for these teenagers, where they are carried out of their world into the eternal time of poetry.