CHINA AND JAPAN
The "Powhatan" is commissioned -- Ordered to convey ex-President Pierce and lady to Madeira -- Sails with unusual dispatch -- Arrival at Madeira -- Hospitalities of J. Howard March, Esq. -- Pleasant stay at Funchal -- Departure for St. Helena -- Sight the Canary Islands -- Arrival at St. Helena -- Description of an excursion to Longwood -- Napoleon's Tomb -- Sail for Cape Town -- Collision with a Dutch ship -- Run short of coal -- Dangerous situation -- Table Bay
On the 23d day of November, 1857, the steam frigate Powhatan was commissioned at the Navy Yard, Gosport, Virginia, for a cruise of two years as the flagship of the East India Squadron, and placed under command of Capt. Geo. F. Pearson.
The agreeable duty of conveying ex-President Pierce and his estimable lady to the island of Madeira, having been imposed upon her officers by the Hon. Secretary of the Navy, gave an additional incentive to their professional zeal in expediting, as much as possible, the departure of the ship on the service for which she had been designated; and in the course of thirteen days she was fully equipped and organized as a first-class steam frigate.
On the 7th of December, at 10 A.M., the ex-President was received on board, accompanied by Mrs. Pierce and numerous friends, and in honor of the high position so recently held by our distinguished passenger, the yards were manned, and the American flag was displayed at the main, while a full guard of marines presented arms, and the band struck up the national air as he came over the side. The hour of our departure arriving, a hasty leave was taken of our friends, and under a salute of twenty one guns from the "Pennsylvania," the "Powhatan" was released from the chains and shackles by which she had so long been confined to the dull monotony of the land, and moved proudly and majestically towards her more congenial element -- the ocean; commencing thus auspiciously one of the most interesting and probably, with reference to future events, important cruises ever performed by any vessel in the Navy -- up to the period of her arrival in Panama, on the 24th day of April, 1860, with the first diplomatic Embassy ever sent from the Empire of Japan.
A slight accident to the machinery prevented our final departure from Hampton Roads until the 11th of December, on which day we bade farewell to the Capes of Virginia, our eyes slightly dimmed, perhaps, with natural grief at parting for years, it might be forever, from home and friends, and yet mingled with the sad thoughts which oppressed our hearts, came pleasant anticipations of a prosperous voyage, with the cheering consciousness of being engaged in the performance of duties by which we might gain honor to ourselves, and reflect credit on our glorious country.
During the passage to Madeira nothing of interest occurred to break the monotony of ocean life. On board ship everything goes on with the mechanical regularity of clockwork, and the stated calls of duty dispel, in some degree, the ennui which a landsman would find intolerably oppressive. The meal hours form the great events, and, to some, the sole pleasures of the day, and everything which militates against their enjoyment is, of course, regarded as a heavy misfortune. Great, therefore, was the disgust, and prodigious the growling of the wardroom officers of the Powhatan, when a few days' experience revealed the appalling fact that the steward, who had been engaged under very flattering testimonials, and who professed to be an adept in the art of affording solace and comfort to the "inner man," was totally incompetent to perform the great and responsible duties of his position.
Such wretched fare I have never seen before in a wardroom mess -- everything was prepared in the most untidy, greasy manner, from a broiled chicken to a rice pudding, and some of the most extraordinary dishes were served up to us which were ever presented to a civilized palate; probably our English doughhead of a steward might have eaten such in the coal mines of the old country, but it would be a national insult to suggest the idea of their ever being known to American stomachs -- a description of the rare and curious dishes displayed on our table during the early days of the cruise, might gratify the curiosity of some of my readers, but would assuredly spoil the appetite of all, and, therefore, I shall doubtless be readily excused for not describing more minutely each dish, and the manner of its composition.
I have frequently noticed that the majority of travellers take great pleasure in forcing the "gentle reader" (who in most cases has his temper severely tried) to share with them in all the discomforts of their journey -- if they find their beds occupied by a busy race who go in for "squatter sovereignty" -- if they suspect the edibles provided for their table to consist of "rats and mice, and such small deer" -- if their olfactories are assailed by disgusting odors, all is noted down and served up to the public with a graphic power and minuteness of detail, which goes far to exemplify the principle that "misery loves company."
But I belong to a different class, being naturally kind and considerate for others; therefore, I shall touch lightly on the disagreeables of the voyage, but become genial and communicative when there is anything pleasant to relate, and by this politic course, perhaps my "reader" and I will be able to jog along to the close of the book in friendly companionship.
We had frequent visits in the ward-room from our distinguished passenger, General Pierce, and all were charmed with the ease and affability with which he at once adapted himself to the new style of association into which he had suddenly been thrown. He seemed to appreciate at its full value his release from the thraldom of official responsibility, and to enjoy, with genial zest, the society of the officers generally, every one of whom would have voted for his restoration to the elevated position he had so recently filled, had he been a candidate at the time of our arrival at Madeira. Mrs. Pierce was confined to her cabin, the greater part of the voyage, by sea-sickness and general debility; but when the weather admitted of her appearance on deck, she seemed to enjoy the novelty of her situation, and to receive with grateful pleasure the sympathizing attentions of those who approached her. Notwithstanding our unfortunate selection of a steward, we contrived to get up quite a stylish entertainment in the wardroom in the way of a dinner to the General and his lady, at which, of course, the Captain was present; and for aught they knew to the contrary, we might have been blessed with the services of the celebrated Downing, of Broadway celebrity.
The weather was generally good, and we accompanied the run in less than seventeen days, having been detained about three hours, on the third day out, in supplying the American bark "Orlando" with provisions.
The day following our arrival, General Pierce and his lady left the ship to become the guests of J. Howard March, Esq., our venerable and excellent consul at Funchal. Previous to our departure the general delivered a brief but eloquent address to the officers and crew, to which Captain Pearson responded with the frank and cordial feeling of an honest, true-hearted sailor.
Our brief stay at Funchal was rendered particularly pleasant by the princely hospitalities of Mr. March. The reputation of this gentleman, as a liberal and most agreeable host, is world wide; and I can add but little to what has been already said in his praise by all who have enjoyed his society, or received the freedom of his luxurious abode. He has acquired a large fortune by the sale of the best wines formerly produced here, and of which he seems to have retained a very respectable stock for the consumption of his friends -- being himself one of the most abstemious of men -- more from necessity than choice, however.
Many of the officers of the Powhatan were old acquaintances of Mr. March, and when on shore made his abode "head-quarters." The zest with which we partook of his good cheer seemed to gratify him exceedingly, and none of us are likely soon to forget that broad circular table, nor the cordial welcome with which our appearance around it was always greeted by the genial host. The contrast between the delicate viands presented to our palates there, and the abominations prepared by the impostor who had been shipped as our steward, was particularly striking and agreeable, after seventeen days of suffering at his merciless hands.
While at Funchal we visited the "Grand Coral," which is the most striking and universal point of interest in the vicinity of the city. The view consists of a shuddering look down a deep ravine between two precipitous mountain sides, with the clouds whirling about one's head in the most distracted and distracting manner. The scenery is of the wildest and most picturesque character; lofty cliffs on every side, and jagged peaks rising boldly from the base of the surrounding hills, as if in defiance of the vapory clouds which rest on their summits, while old ocean rolls proudly and placidly in view on each side of the island, forming a fitting frame for the grand and glorious landscape. The road leading to this point is wide and smooth, though somewhat precipitous, passing often between lofty cliffs, or along the front of precipices overhanging the sea; it becomes so very steep before reaching the highest point, as to render it impracticable to ascend on horseback, accustomed as the animals of the island are to climbing its mountain sides. These horses are always attended by a groom, who is so completely identified with the animal as to bring to mind the fabulous centaur of the ancients; contriving to keep pace with it by seizing hold of the tail when the rider chooses to accelerate his speed, which is often mischievously done to a degree which keeps the pedestrian follower in a half gallop great part of the way. Ridiculous as such an appendage may seem to the equipment of a gallant equestrian, his attendance is not altogether to be despised, as in the event of any accident to the horse or his trapping, the services of this faithful ally become invaluable.
The ride to the church of Nostra Senhora del Monte, situated 1200 feet above the city, and in full view from the anchorage, is one of the most novel and interesting I have ever experienced, not only on account of the beautiful and varied scenery presented to the view during the ascent, but for the manner in which the return trip is accomplished; the descent, which is not without danger, is made in a style of vehicle peculiar to the island, which is a cross between a four-wheeled coach and a woodsman's sled. The runners upon which the coach body is placed are shod with iron, and the road being paved with small smooth stones, it is only necessary to give a slight impetus to the hybrid contrivance to insure its reaching the bottom of the hill in the shortest possible space of time. Fortunately, the driver -- if the term applies to one whose only office consists in restraining the oxen instead of urging them forward -- has the power of checking their "mad career" by giving them a sudden turn occasionally into open spaces, or terraces levelled off on either side of the road for this purpose; otherwise, there is no doubt that numerous accidents of a serious and fatal character would occur in making this grand slide. The effect is highly exhilarating, once in a while, but, generally speaking, I must confess a different style of stimulant would be preferred by me in the way of amusement.
The mountain steeps of Madeira are covered with rich and luxuriant vegetation. Terraces are everywhere visible, and every available and accessible spot is made to yield its quota to man's support. The culture of the grape formerly made the chief wealth of the island, but has now been totally abandoned, and the sugar-cane waves its graceful leaves where the Bacchanalian vine so long held sway, and made one's mouth water in contemplation of the delicious fluids to be extracted from its fruit. The disease which in 1852 destroyed the vines, has proved incurable, and the cultivation of the grape has been unwillingly relinquished by the owners of the soil, for the less profitable and congenial production of sugar, though as yet to no considerable extent.
The climate is equable and healthy in an extraordinary degree, the temperature being 65§, which makes the island a favorite resort for sufferers with pulmonary complaints; and during the winter season the foreign society at Funchal is numerous and active.
Fruits and vegetables belonging to both the tropical and temperate zones are grown in great abundance and perfection. In the lower portions of the island, groves of orange and lemon trees are seen; above, we find bananas, figs, pomegranates, etc.; and still higher, the fruits of the temperate zone, namely: apples, currants, pears and peaches. Coffee, wheat, rye, Indian corn, etc., are also raised, but not for exportation.
The women of the island are justly celebrated for the neatness and delicacy of their needlework, in the way of laces and embroideries, and they not only meet with a ready sale for their manufactures among the foreigners making a temporary stay in their midst, but there is a considerable export of the produce of the country to Brazil, and other countries, in a quiet way.
But I am lingering too long in this modern paradise, and must, perforce, tear myself away. The good ship is now ready for another trial of her metal, and the new year has commenced with smiles upon her onward track across the wilderness of waters lying between this and the next destined haven. Accordingly, on the 6th of January, 1858, we bade adieu to the pleasing associations formed at Funchal, and on the passage thither, turning our thoughts reluctantly to the grim and dismal shores of the barren spot connected in history with one of the most famous of military heroes, and the most infamous of national decrees.
On the third morning after leaving Madeira we passed within three miles of the eastern extremity of the island of Palma (one of the Canaries), going under sail alone, at the rate of nine knots, having removed the paddles from our wheels as soon as we struck the N.E. tradewind which occurred within thirty hours from the time of our sailing. We continued under sail from the 9th to the 15th of January, by which time we reached the lat. 10§N., where the tradewind had become so light as to make it necessary to replace the paddles -- eighty miles in twenty-four hours being considered rather slow progress for a first-class steamer. Under steam again, and the weather proving propitious, the good ship appeared to realize that she was in her natural element, and to dash through it with a power and speed that made her seem like "a thing of life." The ordinary routine of duties on board a man-of-war engrossed the attentions of officers and crew, and gave rise to no incidents worthy of record on the passage. There was the usual amount of "growling" at caterer, steward, and cook, which always follows the hurried organization of a large mess of officers, and which eventually produced its desired result in the shape of a total change of administration; accomplished, however, in the same peaceable manner in which such changes are effected in the General Government of our happy country -- barring the black eyes and bloody noses which seem to be thought necessary, in order to make our too frequently recurring election days go off with proper éclat.
At about meridian, on the 27th of January, the cry of "Land ho!" from the mast head, dispelled the feeling of ennui which was beginning to be felt on board under the monotonous state of things to which routine had reduced us. Going to sea in steamers is apt to render one impatient, and induce the rather presumptuous idea that three weeks of salt water and blue sky is decidedly tiresome. It is only by contrasting their experience in sailing vessels with that in steamers, that even sea-faring men can fully estimate the advantages of the latter, and reconcile themselves to the inevitable coal-dust and soiled decks; the two great evils with which officers of steamers have to contend -- a clean ship being regarded as a sine qua non.
The rocky peaks of the desolate, ocean-washed island of St. Helena, rose rapidly on the distant horizon, and the interesting historical associations with which they are connected gave an additional impulse to the excitement produced by the mere fact of our near approach to an anchorage, and, to descend from the sublime to the ridiculous -- "Fresh grub!" The port of Jamestown is by no means difficult to discover, or to enter, as it is situated near the centre of the island, which is little more than ten miles in length -- the town lies on its N.W. shore, in one of the numerous ravines interspersed among the rugged hills and mountains of which it is formed. There is excellent anchorage in the roadstead, the island forming a lee to keep off the force and swell of the S.E. tradewind; and its convenient location in the track of vessels bound either to the eastward or northward, renders it a very important "halfway house" for replenishing supplies of water and provisions. Strong fortifications on each side of the anchorage guard the approach to the town -- the one on "Ladder Hill" being elevated nearly 700 feet above the sea level. A flight of 650 steps leads from this hill to the town below, which I had the fatiguing pleasure of descending in company with some of the officers of the fort.
The island is of volcanic origin, and consists of rugged mountains, hills, and peaks, several of which assume curious and fantastic forms; the highest of these is situated near its centre, and called the "Peaks of Diana," rising to an altitude of 2700 feet -- there are two other remarkable peaks on the south coast reaching the height of over 1400 feet, which have been named "Lot" and "Lot's wife," from some fanciful resemblance to the pillar of salt into which the latter was turned as a punishment for her curiosity, and a warning to succeeding generations of the fair sex to abstain from prying into forbidden things; a lesson which, I regret to say, they do not yet seem to have profitably learned. There is a limestone ridge running through the island near its centre, from E. to W., and on the northern side of this ridge the land is rugged and sterile, but contains several tolerably level tracts which, during the season when moisture is abundant, are covered with rich verdure. The largest of these tracts is "Longwood," where Napoleon had his residence.
The climate is temperate and genial, the mean temperature of the year being 61§ 3. Earthquakes are frequently felt on the island, and strange upheavings of the ocean have occasionally occurred, indicating subterranean commotion. One of the most remarkable of these took place February 17, 1849, when the sea suddenly became agitated as if by a heavy storm, and many vessels were torn from their moorings and dashed upon the beach. St. Helena has no commerce, being unable even to supply its own wants, and the only traffic consists in furnishing supplies to calling vessels. It was once a possession of the East India Company, but now belongs to the British Crown; population about 5000, of whom nearly one half are whites, the larger portion being Indians and negroes.
In company with two of my messmates, I had a glorious ride among the romantic hills and valleys of the place, from which we should have derived a degree of delight to which we had long been strangers, even had the charm of association been wanting. The road was excellent, leading up the sides of the hills immediately to the westward of the town, and thence along their summits until another and higher range was reached, along the side of which a wide and beautiful carriage drive had been cut, presenting at various points the most refreshing views of the valleys below us, and of the blue expanse of ocean in the distance. Notwithstanding the exhilaration of the ride, however, and the beauty and brightness of the surrounding scenery, an indescribable sensation of gloom and depression would occasionally steal over me -- my thoughts reverted to the greatest hero of modern times -- to him whose fame once filled the world, and the closing scenes of whose life afforded to it one of the most wonderful examples of the vanity of all human greatness and ambition. Who that had witnessed Napoleon's glory in its noontide splendor would have predicted that his sun would set in gloom and desolation! I thought of the scenes of which the hills around him had been the silent witnesses; -- the brave warrior -- the wise statesman -- the mighty monarch, bound and helpless in the power of his enemies -- he whose will had shaken the thrones of Europe -- for whose ambition the sceptre of the world seemed too small, yielded up his spirit in this isolated spot, an exile and a captive! Far from his beloved and beautiful France, the closing scene of the great drama of his life was here played out; -- the sword doomed to rust in inglorious idleness outwore its sheath -- and the great heart broke which could never be taught to bend; -- leaving to mankind the impressive lesson that all earthly power and greatness is but for an allotted time -- that "passing away" is written on the world and all that it contains -- and that God alone is the Eternal Ruler of the universe, and gives the kingdoms of the earth to whomsoever He will!
After riding four or five miles by a somewhat circuitous route, we came upon the broad plain called Longwood, near the centre of which stands the dilapidated, old-fashioned country house in which the great Emperor Napoleon I. spent the last six years of his eventful life, from 1815 to 1821. The approach to it leads through an avenue of old, half-decayed trees, for the distance of a mile, and as we drove beneath their leafless branches, we thought of the departed glory of the wonderful man, who, in years gone by, had ruminated in bitter sadness on his cruel imprisonment, as he paced with the heavy footsteps of care the same ground over which we were so hastily passing.
Reaching the dwelling, we entered the front door of a single-storied house, built of stone, in the cottage style of the times, and found ourselves in the parlor where the dethroned Emperor once received his visitors; immediately back of this was his bedchamber, centre of which, at the time of our visit, was occupied by a wheat fan. When we alighted from the carriage our party had been joined by a squalid urchin of about a dozen years, who volunteered his services as cicerone, and learning from him the precise spot where the Emperor's bedstead had once stood, we proceeded to cut small splinters from the rafters and window sills in its immediate vicinity, as souvenirs of the past. Presuming that my readers are generally acquainted, by description, with the character and dimensions of this once-famous house, I shall not require them to follow me into the dusty, mouldering dining room and library, or into the neglected courtyard, filled with pigs, chickens, and dirt, where once cleanliness, order, and the fragrance of flowers, watched over by the tender solicitude of one whose active life had been spent in the "tented field," but who now resigned the review of armies for that of Nature's beauties.
Leaving this dreary spot, we passed into the grounds surrounding the "new house" built by the English for Napoleon's accommodation, but which he could never be persuaded to occupy; it is much larger and more conveniently arranged than the old dwelling, and is now the property of a wealthy citizen of the island. From this we paid a hasty visit to a small farmhouse in the adjoining valley -- which we were very politely invited to enter by the lady who occupied it, and complied, of course, with all the grace we could command. We were introduced to a buxom girl of fifteen, as the daughter of the house, and soon had placed before us a large waiter of delicious grapes and peaches, with which we became acquainted quite as readily as with the ladies. The young gentleman of the party (Dr. S---, of the Powhatan) was remarkably handsome, and I have always considered that we were greatly indebted to this fortunate circumstance for the hospitable manner in which we were entertained. After half an hour's agreeable chat in the house, we were shown into the romantic little garden running into the valley in its rear, and kept rambling among the fruits and flowers until the approach of sunset warned us that we had five miles to travel before dark, and we therefore, bade a reluctant adieu to our fair friends, and the picturesque and lovely spot they had chosen for their abode.
As the valley in which the tomb of Napoleon was placed lay but a short distance from the road to Jamestown, our driver was ordered to take us to that celebrated spot with all convenient expedition, and only a few minutes elapsed before he politely informed us that it would be necessary to dismount and walk a quarter of a mile from the road to the bottom of the valley. There we found a small piece of ground partly enclosed by what had once been a paling fence, but could scarcely be recognized as anything in the shape of a fence at that time. In the centre of this shadowy enclosure stood a small stone structure resembling a vault above ground, and having a door leading to a shallow excavation below; this we entered, and gazed on the spot where the coffin had been placed holding the mortal remains of the great Napoleon. Yielding thoughtlessly to a momentary impulse, the barbarous practice for which our countrymen generally have acquired an unenviable distinction, was followed by the party, and small chips of stone were ruthlessly broken from the slabs forming the bottom and sides of this primitive style of vault, and after a brief indulgence in the moral reflections called up by the spot, we returned to our vehicle, not unwilling to hasten away from a gloomy scene, and one so uncongenial to our feelings and sympathies at the moment.
The considerable descent of the road from the plain of Longwood, and the rapid manner in which we returned, made it appear a much shorter trip than our ride out, and finding that we had a little spare time, we availed ourselves of the opportunity to pay a brief visit to an invalid messmate who was rusticating, during our stay at the island, in a small country tavern at "Hutt's Gate," a former barrier to intruders upon the grounds at Longwood. We rejoiced to find him improving under the kind attentions of a smiling landlady, who made her appearance with a baby in her arms, and numerous more advanced specimens of the same genus prattling and capering around her, apparently endeavoring to keep time with the cackling hens and quacking ducks in the adjoining yard. We pledged our friend's health in a small glass of bad brandy, at a large price, offered our congratulations at his having found such hilarious and musical quarters, and leaving him to the full enjoyment of all his privileges, we hastened our return to the great element of our profession -- salt water. Our "homeward bound" horses needed no urging to whirl us with most exhilarating speed along the smooth, descending road, giving us an opportunity to catch nothing more than a passing glimpse of "the Briars," on the other side of the ravine, along whose eastern edge our road lay. A little after sunset we found ourselves again within the "wooden walls" of our noble ship, relating the incidents of the day's experience to those of our messmates who had been confined on board by duty.
The steam frigate "Mississippi" had preceded us only a few months in our visit to this place, being also on her way to China as one of the squadron on that station -- and had taken on board the entire supply of coal kept on shore by the United States consul for the use of our steamers; we were consequently forced to replenish our almost empty bunkers with very indifferent English coal, purchased from a merchant who still more unfortunately had only about 200 tons on hand, when we required twice that amount. There was no alternative, however, but to continue our voyage, trusting to favorable weather and an economical expenditure of our "black diamonds," to enable us to accomplish the usual passage of nine days to the Cape of Good Hope.
Captain Peel, of the Royal Artillery, stationed at the fort on "Ladder Hill," made application to Captain Pearson, through me, for a passage to Cape Town in the wardroom mess, and his request being cheerfully granted on all sides, he came on board in the afternoon of the 1st of February, when our good ship was got under way at about 7 P.M., and we steamed gallantly toward the eastern end of the island, called Sugarloaf Point.
There was a nice little Dutch clipper ship, built of iron, lying at anchor just under the lee of this point, and riding with her head toward the island. In order to avoid running too near the land it was deemed necessary to pass under the Dutchman's stern, giving him, however, a judiciously wide berth; but, unfortunately, he got under way at the very moment that we had approached too near his vessel to alter our course so as to pass ahead of her, and the only way of avoiding a serious collision, was to put our helm hard a-starboard and endeavor to get away from her, by which means we escaped with a slight scratching along the port quarter, and our blind friend, who failed to discover three strong lights approaching him from the distance of a mile, lost his bowsprit and other head spars. This little contretemps compelled us to return to our anchorage, having sent a boat to the Dutchman, and learned the extent of the damage he had received, which our commander desired to remedy so far as it was in his power to do so, although he considered that we were in no degree accountable for the accident. The following morning, having furnished the necessary spars and rigging to repair his awkward misfortune, we left him to make the best of his way to Holland, while we made another start, this time by daylight, upon our ill-omened passage to the Cape.
Rounding Sugarloaf Point, we soon felt the force of the S.E. trades, and accordingly went to work at once to make the ship as "snug" as possible, as a measure both of expediency and economy. The sails were unbent, top masts housed, and the lower yards brought down from their usual elevation to a short distance above the ship's gunwales; this greatly reduced resistance to our progress, but the road was decidedly "stumpy," and, like Jordan, "hard to travel;" yet the good ship pitched in to the opposite waves with pugnacious pertinacity, until we reached a point about 450 miles from our destined port, when the unhappy discovery was made that the quantity of coal remaining on board was entirely too small to justify us in attempting to steam that distance against strong head wind and sea. Recourse was immediately had to the spars and sails which had been so contemptuously cast aside a few days previously, and but for the unfortunate detention of our English friend, who had leave for only a month's absence, there would have been no serious objections made by the officers generally, to the opportunity thus afforded of making a fair trial of the ship's qualities as a sailing vessel. We continued to steam on our course until the necessary preparations for making sail were effected, and as soon as they were completed the paddles were again removed from the wheels, which were securely lashed, and the "Powhatan" became to all intents and purposes a "clipper ship," though with somewhat remarkable protuberances on her sides, which we generally denominate as "wheel houses," and the English call "paddle boxes." The wind and sea continuing to be as adverse as possible, we were compelled to resort to the tedious and comfortless process of "beating to windward," but the handsome manner in which the good ship came up to the work in her new character, was so gratifying to all on board, that we were disposed to make the best of our situation, and practiced patience with so much vigor and success, that had the voyage under difficulties continued a few months longer, many of us would have become qualified to give lectures on all the cardinal virtues, and this one in particular, for the benefit of decayed naval officers and their families. Our evenings were passed pleasantly in the ward room, playing chess, dominoes, and rounce, in all which we were joined with cordial good will by our jolly English passenger. All were agreeably surprised at the fine performance of the ship, it being generally supposed that a large, heavy, side-wheel steamer will cut about as sorry a figure in tacking, wearing, and sailing, as an elephant in a polka.
We struggled against the manifold obstacles to our progress, growing out of the hasty manner in which we were compelled to rig the ship for sailing, and the accidents occasioned by bad ironwork, during eight days -- by which time we had reached the coast near Saldanha Bay. One of the accidents occurring is worth relating. The wind having become rather too fresh on one occasion to carry whole topsails, the order was given to take in a reef, and while hoisting them after the performance of this evolution, the bolt to which the runner of the topsail halliards was hooked, drew from its place and the main-topsail yard came down suddenly with great force upon the cap. A man by the name of Robert Weston, who was standing on the yard at that time, was thrown off, but in descending head downwards with the yard, his foot caught between it and the studding-sail boom, holding him fast in that perilous position until he was extricated by the men in the maintop. He gave unmistakable evidence while thus hanging by his "understanding" that his lungs were in sound condition, and as he had almost miraculous escaped serious injury, he was at his post again after remaining two or three days on the "doctor's list."
The project was discussed among the officers of the ship, of endeavoring to effect an entrance into this fine bay (Saldanha), and sending to Cape Town for coal, but the wind seemed by no means disposed to permit the indulgence of this idea, as it fell gradually away to a dead calm, and left us to wallow in the tremendous swell it had created, completely at the mercy of the strong current setting in the direction of the land, which, at 8 P.M., on the 18th of February, was found to be less than thirty miles distant. Under these circumstances it became necessary to consider by what means we were to avoid too close proximity with the solid earth we had so long struggled in vain to reach, and it was decided, without much hesitation, in a consultation between the Captain, the master, and the executive officer, to replace the paddles and give the ship fair play in her efforts to escape from what might become, before morning, a somewhat perilous position.
The ship rolled heavily in the trough of the sea the whole night, retarding materially the operation of screwing on the nuts to secure the paddles to the rim of the wheels, almost double the time usually occupied being consumed before we could venture to put them in motion, and it was nearly four o'clock in the morning before we were fairly under way, standing directly out from the land. As I looked around me in the gray mist of the early dawn, and beheld the sea breaking over the rocks at the distance of about two miles under our lee, completely covering them as it dashed furiously against their grim and spectral forms, I felt, with all on board, that it was an exceedingly pleasant thing to realize, that we had a power working for our deliverance from this ugly spot, in whose efficacy we could place unlimited confidence.
The sun soon rose in unclouded splendor, and beyond the rocks surrounding "Dassen Island," which had well nigh proved "the lion in our path," we beheld the green and pleasant hills in the distance; the sight of which produced on us, in some degree, the tantalizing effect which our first parents must have experienced in wistfully regarding the bright fields of Paradise, to which the "flaming sword" of the angel barred their return. Our escape from imminent danger, however, was too gratifying to permit the indulgence of vain regrets, and with light hearts, we steamed briskly toward our long-sought haven -- Table Bay.
Go to top page of China and Japan material