The manner of killing these cattle, being peculiar to that part of the world, merits a circumstantial description. Both Spaniards and Indians in that country are usually most excellent horsemen; and accordingly the hunters employed on this occasion are all mounted on horseback, armed with a kind of spear, which, instead of the usual point or blade in the same line with the shaft, has its blade fixed across. Armed with this instrument, they ride at a beast and surround him, when the hunter that is behind hamstrings him, so that he soon falls, and is unable to rise from the ground, where they leave him and proceed against others, whom they serve in the same manner. Sometimes there is a second party attending the hunters, on purpose to skin the cattle as they fall; but it is said that the hunters sometimes prefer to leave them to languish in torment till next day, from an opinion that the lengthened anguish bursts the lymphatics, and thereby facilitates the separation of the skin from the carcass. Their priests have loudly condemned this most barbarous practice, and have even gone so far, if my memory do not deceive me, as to excommunicate such as persist to follow it, yet all their efforts to put an entire stop to it have hitherto proved ineffectual.
Besides great numbers of cattle which are slaughtered every year in this manner, for their hides and tallow, it is often necessary, for the uses of agriculture, and for other purposes, to catch them alive, and without wounding them. This is performed with a most wonderful and most incredible dexterity, chiefly by means of an implement or contrivance which the English who have resided at Buenos Ayres usually denominate a lash. This consists of a very strong thong of raw hide, several fathoms in length, with a running noose at one end. This the hunter, who is on horseback, takes in his right hand, being properly coiled up, and the other end fastened to the saddle: Thus prepared, the hunters ride at a herd of cattle, and when arrived within a certain distance of a beast, they throw their thong at him with such exactness, that they never fail to fix the noose about his horns. Finding himself thus entangled, the beast usually endeavours to run away, but the hunter attends his motions, and the horse being swifter, the thong is prevented from being so much straitened as to break, till another hunter throws another noose about one of his hind-legs. When this is done, the horses being trained to the sport, instantly turn in opposite directions, straining the two thongs contrary ways, by which the beast is overthrown. The horses then stop, keeping both thongs on the stretch, so that the beast remains on the ground incapable of resistance; and the two hunters alight from their horses and secure the beast in such a manner that they afterwards easily convey him to wherever they please.
They catch horses by means of similar nooses, and are even said to catch tigers in the same manner, which, however strange it may appear, is asserted by persons of credit. It must be owned, indeed, that the address both of Spaniards and Indians in this part of the world, in the use of this lash or noose, and the certainty with which they throw and fix it on any intended part of a beast, even at a considerable distance, is so wonderful as only to be credited and repeated on the concurrent testimony of all who have frequented this country. The cattle killed in the before-mentioned manner are slaughtered only for their hides and tallow, and sometimes their tongues also are taken out; but the rest of the flesh is left to putrify, or to be devoured by birds of prey and wild beasts. The greatest part of it falls to the share of the wild-dogs, of which there are immense numbers to be found in the country. These are all supposed to be descended of Spanish dogs from Buenos Ayres, which had left their masters, allured by the great quantity of carrion, and had run wild where they had such facility of subsisting, for they are plainly of the European breed of dogs. Although these dogs are said to prowl in vast packs, even some thousands together, they do not diminish the number, nor prevent the increase of the cattle, as they dare not attack the herds, by reason of the vast numbers that feed together, but content themselves with the carrion left by the hunters, and perhaps now and then meet with a few stragglers, separated accidentally from the herds to which they belong.
This country, to the southward of Buenos Ayres, is also stocked with great numbers of wild-horses, brought also originally from Spain, and prodigiously increased, and extending to a much greater distance than the cattle. Though many of these are excellent, their numbers make them of very little value, the best of them being sold in the neighbouring settlements, where money is plenty and commodities very dear, for not more than a dollar a piece. It is not certain how far to the southwards these herds of wild cattle and horses extend; but there is reason to believe that stragglers of both are to be met with very near the Straits of Magellan, and they will doubtless in time fill all the southern part of the continent with their breeds, which cannot fail to be of vast advantage to such ships as may touch on the coast. The horses are said to be very good eating, and are even preferred by some of the Indians before the cattle. But however plentiful Patagonia may hereafter become in regard to flesh, this eastern coast of that extensive country seems very defective in regard to fresh water; for as the land is generally of a nitrous and saline nature, the ponds and streams are frequently brackish. However, as good water has been found, though in small quantities, it is not improbable but this inconvenience may be removed, on a farther search.
There are also in all parts of this country a good number of Vicunnas, or Peruvian sheep, but these, by reason of their swiftness, are very difficultly killed. On the eastern coast, also, there are immense quantities of seals, and a vast variety of sea-fowl, among which the most remarkable are the penguins. These are, in size and shape, like a goose, but have short stumps like fins instead of wings, which are of no use to them except when in the water. Their bills are narrow, like that of the albatross, and they stand and walk quite erect, from which circumstance, and their white bellies, Sir John Narborough has whimsically likened them to little children standing up in white aprons.
The inhabitants of this eastern coast, to which hitherto I confine my observations, appear to be but few, and rarely have more than two or three of them been seen at a time by any ships that have touched here. During our stay at Port St Julian we did not see any. Towards Buenos Ayres, however, they are sufficiently numerous, and are very troublesome to the Spaniards: But there the greater breadth and variety of the country, and a milder climate, yield them greater conveniences. In that part the continent is between three and four hundred leagues in breadth, while at Port St Julian it is little more than one hundred. I conceive, therefore, that the same Indians who frequent the western coast of Patagonia, and the northern shore of the Straits of Magellan, often ramble to this eastern side. As the Indians near Buenos Ayres are more numerous than those farther south, they also greatly excel them in spirit and activity, and seem nearly allied in their manners to the gallant Chilese Indians, [Araucanians] who have long set the whole Spanish power at defiance, have often ravaged their country, and remain to this hour independent. The Indians about Buenos Ayres have learned to be excellent horsemen, and are extremely expert in the management of all cutting weapons, though ignorant of fire-arms, which the Spaniards are exceedingly solicitous to keep from them. Of the vigour and resolution of these Indians, the behaviour of Orellana and his followers, formerly mentioned, is a memorable instance.
This much may suffice respecting the eastern coast of Patagonia. The western coast is of less extent; and, by reason of the Andes which skirt it, and stretch quite down to the sea side, the shore is very rocky and dangerous. As I shall hereafter have occasion to take farther notice of that coast, I shall not enlarge any farther respecting it in this place, but shall conclude this account with a short description of the harbour of St Julian, the general form of which may be conceived from the annexed sketch. It must however be noticed, that the bar there marked at the entrance has many holes in it, and is often shifting. The tide flows here N. and S. and at full and change rises four fathoms. On our first arrival, an officer was sent on shore to the salt pond marked D. in the sketch, in order to procure a quantity of salt for the use of the squadron; for Sir John Narborough had observed, when he was here, that the salt was very white and good, and that in February there was enough to have loaded a thousand ships. But our officer returned with a sample which was very bad, and said that even of this very little was to be had: I suppose the weather had been more rainy this year than ordinary, and had destroyed the salt, or prevented its fermentation.
Departure from the Bay of St Julian, and Passage from thence to the Straits of Le Maire.
The Tryal being nearly refitted, which was our principal occupation at this bay, and sole occasion of our stay, the commodore thought it necessary to fix the plan of his first operations, as we were now directly bound for the South Seas and the enemy's coasts; and therefore, on the 24th February, a signal was made for all captains, and a council of war was held on board the Centurion. There were present on this occasion the Honourable Edward Legg, Captain Matthew Mitchell, the Honourable George Murray, Captain David Cheap, and Colonel Mordaunt Cracherode, commander of the land-forces. At this council, it was proposed by Commodore Anson, that their first attempt, after arriving in the South Seas, should be against the town and harbour of Baldivia, the principal frontier place in the south of Chili, informing them, as an inducement for this enterprize, that it formed part of his majesty's instructions to endeavour to secure some port in the South Seas where the ships of the squadron might be careened and refitted. The council readily and unanimously agreed to this proposal; and, in consequence of this resolution, new instructions were issued to the captains, by which, though still directed, in case of separation, to make the best of their way to the island of Socoro, they were only to cruize off that island for ten days; from whence, if not then joined by the commodore, they were to proceed off Baldivia, making the land between the latitudes of 40 deg. and 40 deg. 30' S. and taking care to keep to the southward of the port. If not there joined in fourteen days by the rest of the squadron, they were then to direct their course for the island of Juan Fernandez; after which they were to regulate their farther proceedings by the former orders given out at St Catharines. The same orders were also given to the master of the Anna pink, who was enjoined to answer and obey the signals made by any ship of the squadron, in absence of the commodore; and, if he should be so unfortunate as to fell into the hands of the enemy, he was directed to destroy his orders and papers with the utmost care. Likewise, as the separation of the squadron might prove highly prejudicial to the service, each captain was ordered to give it in charge to the respective officers of the watch, on all occasions, never to keep their respective ships at a greater distance from the Centurion than two miles, as they should answer at their peril; and if any captain should find his ship beyond the specified distance, he was to acquaint the commodore with the name of the officer who thus neglected his duty.
These necessary regulations established, and the repairs of the Tryal sloop completed, the squadron weighed from Port St Julians on Friday the 27th February, 1741, at seven in the morning, and stood to sea. The Gloucester found such difficulty in endeavouring to purchase her anchor, that she was left a great way astern, so that we fired several guns in the night as signals for her to make more sail: But she did not rejoin us till next morning, when we learnt that she had been obliged to cut her cable, leaving her best bower anchor behind. At ten in the morning of the 28th, Wood's Mount, the high land over Port St Julian, bore from us N. by W. distant ten leagues, and we had fifty-two fathoms water. Standing now to the southward, we had great expectations of falling in with the Spanish squadron under Pizarro; as, during our stay at Port St Julian, there had generally been hard gales between W.N.W. and S.W. so that we had reason to conclude that squadron, had gained no ground upon us in that interval. Indeed, it was the prospect of meeting them that had occasioned our commodore to be so very solicitous to prevent the separation of our ships; for, had he been solely intent on getting round Cape Horn in the shortest time, the most proper method for this purpose would have been, to order each ship to make the best of her way to the rendezvous, without waiting for the rest.
From the time of leaving Port St Julian to the 4th March, we had little wind with thick hazy weather and some rain, and our soundings were generally from forty to fifty fathoms, with a bottom of black and gray sand, sometimes mixed with pebble stones. On the 4th March we were in sight of Cape Virgin Mary, and not more than six or seven leagues distant, the northern boundary of the eastern entrance of the Straits of Magellan, in lat 52 deg. 21' S. long. 71 deg. 44' W. from London. It seemed a low flat land, ending in a point. Off this cape the depth of water was from thirty-five to forty-eight fathoms. The afternoon of this day was bright and clear, with small breezes of wind, inclining to a calm; and most of the captains took the opportunity of this fine weather to visit the commodore. While all were on board the Centurion, they were greatly alarmed by a sudden flame bursting out in the Gloucester, followed by a cloud of smoke; but were soon relieved of their apprehensions, by receiving information that the blast had been occasioned by a spark of fire from the forge lighting on some gun-powder, and other combustibles, which an officer was preparing for use, in case of falling in with the Spanish squadron, and which had exploded without any damage to the ship.
[Footnote 1: The longitude of Cape Virgin Mary, is only 67 deg. 42' W. from Greenwich.—E.]
[Footnote 2: By the draught in the original, omitted here for substantial reasons already repeatedly stated, the coast at this southern extremity of Patagonia is represented as a high bluff flat on the top, and ending abruptly at this cape.—E.]
We here found, what was constantly the case in these high southern latitudes, that fair weather was always of exceedingly short continuance, and that when remarkably fine it was a certain presage of a succeeding storm: For the calm and sunshine of this afternoon ended in a most turbulent night; the wind freshening from the S.W. as the night came on; and increasing continually in violence till nine next morning. It then blew so hard that we were forced to bring to with the squadron, and to continue under a reefed mizen till eleven at night, having in that time from forty-three to fifty-seven fathoms water on black sand and gravel; and, by an observation we had at noon, we concluded that a current had set us twelve miles to the southward of our reckoning. Toward midnight the wind abated, and we again made sail, steering S. In the morning we discovered the southern land beyond the Straits of Magellan, called Terra del Fuego, stretching from S. by W.S.E. 1/2 E. This country afforded a very uncomfortable prospect, appearing of stupendous height, every where covered with snow, and shewing at its southern extremity the entrance into the Straits of Le Maire at Cape St Diego. We steered along this uncouth and rugged coast all day, having soundings from forty to fifty fathoms, on stones and gravel.
[Footnote 3: The western side of the entrance into the Straits of Le Maire is formed by the Capes of St Vincent and St Diego; the former in lat. 54 deg. 30', the latter in 54 deg. 40', both S. and long. 65 deg. 40' W.]
Intending to pass through the straits of Le Maire next day, we lay to at night that we might not overshoot them, and took this opportunity to prepare ourselves for the tempestuous climate in which we were soon to be engaged, with which view we were employed good part of the night in bending an entire new suit of sails to the yards. At four next morning, being the 7th of March, we made sail, and at eight saw land, and soon after began to open the straits, at which time Cape St Diego bore E.S.E. Cape St Vincent S.E. 1/2 E. the middlemost of the Three Brothers, hills so called on Terra del Fuego S. by W. Montegorda, a high land up the country appearing over the Three Brothers; S. and Cape St Bartholomew, the southernmost point of Staten Land, E.S.E. I must observe here that, though Frezier has given a very correct view of that part of Terra del Fuego which borders on these straits to the westwards, he has omitted the draught of Staten Land, which forms the opposite shore of these straits, whence we found it difficult to determine exactly where the straits lay until they began to open upon our view; and hence, had we not coasted a considerable way along the shore of Terra del Fuego, we might have missed the straits, and have gone to the eastward of Staten Land before discovering it. This has happened to many ships; particularly, as mentioned by Frezier, to the Incarnation and Concord, which, intending to pass through the Straits of Le Maire, were deceived by three hills on Staten Land, and some creeks, resembling the Three Brothers and coves of Terra del Fuego, so that they overshot the straits.
Though Terra del Fuego presented an aspect exceedingly barren and desolate, yet this island of Staten Land far surpasses it in the wildness and horror of its appearance, seeming to be entirely composed of inaccessible rocks, without the smallest apparent admixture of earth or mould, upon or between them. These rocks terminate in a vast number of rugged points, which spire up to a prodigious height, and are all covered with everlasting snow; their pointed summits or pinnacles being every way surrounded by frightful precipices, and often overhanging in a most astonishing manner. The hills which are crowned by the rugged rocks, are generally separated from each other by narrow clifts, appearing as if the country had been frequently rent by earthquakes; for these chasms are nearly perpendicular, and extend through the substance of the main rocks almost to their bases; so that nothing can be imagined more savage and gloomy than the whole aspect of this coast.
Having opened the Straits of Le Maire on the morning of the 7th March, as before mentioned, the Pearl and Tryal, about ten o'clock, were ordered to keep a-head of the squadron and lead the way. We accordingly entered the straits with fair weather and a brisk gale, and were hurried through by the rapidity of the tide in about two hours, though they are between seven and eight leagues in length. As these straits are often esteemed the boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and as we presumed that we had nothing now before us but an open sea, till we should arrive on the opulent coasts where all our hopes and wishes centered, we could not help flattering ourselves that the greatest difficulty of our voyage was now at an end, and that our most sanguine dreams were on the point of being realized. We indulged ourselves, therefore, in the romantic imaginations which the fancied possession of the gold of Chili and silver of Peru might readily be conceived to inspire. These joyous ideas were considerably heightened, by the brightness of the sky and serenity of the weather, which indeed were both most remarkably delightful: For, though the antarctic winter was now advancing with hasty strides, the morning of this day, in mildness and even brilliancy, gave place to none that we had seen since our departure from England. Thus, animated by these flattering delusions, we passed those memorable straits, ignorant of the dreadful calamities then impending, and ready to burst upon us; ignorant that the moment was fast approaching when our squadron was to be separated, never again to unite; and that this day of our passage was the last cheerful day that the greatest part of us was ever to enjoy in this world.
Course from the Straits of Le Maire to Cape Noir.
We had scarcely reached the southern extremity of the Straits of Le Maire, when our flattering hopes were almost instantly changed to the apprehension of immediate destruction. Even before the sternmost ships of the squadron were clear of the straits, the serenity of the sky was suddenly obscured, and we observed all the presages of an impending storm. The wind presently shifted to the southward, and blew in such violent squalls that we had to hand our top-sails and reef our main-sail; while the tide, which had hitherto favoured us, turned furiously adverse, and drove us to the eastward with prodigious rapidity, so that we were in great anxiety for the Wager and Anna pink, the two sternmost vessels, fearing they might be dashed to pieces upon the shore of Staten Land; nor were our apprehensions without foundation, as they weathered that coast with the utmost difficulty. Instead of pursuing our intended course to the S.W. the whole squadron was now drifted to the eastward, by the united force of the storm and current; so that next morning we found ourselves nearly seven leagues eastward of the straits, which then bore from us N.W.
The violence of the current, which had set us with so much precipitation to the eastward, together with the fierceness and constancy of the westerly winds, soon taught us to consider the doubling of Cape Horn as an enterprize that might prove too mighty for all our efforts; though some among us had so lately treated the difficulties which former voyagers were said to have encountered in this undertaking as little better than chimerical, and had supposed them to have arisen from timidity and unskilfulness, rather than from the real embarrassments of the winds and seas. But we were now convinced, from severe experience, that these censures were rash and ill founded; for the distresses with which we struggled during the three succeeding months, will not be easily paralleled in the relation of any former naval expedition; which, I doubt not, will be readily allowed by those who shall carefully peruse the ensuing narration.
From this storm, which came on before we were well clear of the straits of Le Maire, we had a continual succession of such tempestuous weather as surprised the oldest and most experienced mariners on board, and obliged them to confess, that what they had hitherto called storms were inconsiderable gales, when compared with those winds we now encountered; which raised such short, and at times such mountainous waves, as greatly surpassed in danger all seas known in other parts of the globe, and, not without reason, this unusual appearance filled us with continual terror; for, had any one of these waves broken fairly over us, it must almost inevitably have sent us instantly to the bottom. Neither did we escape with terror only: for the ship, rolling incessantly gunwale-to, gave us such quick and violent jerking motions, that the men were in perpetual danger of being dashed to pieces against the decks and sides of the ship; and, though we were extremely careful to secure ourselves against these shocks, by grasping some fixed body, yet many of our people were forced from their holds, some of whom were actually killed, and others greatly injured. In particular, one of our best seamen was canted overboard and drowned; another dislocated his neck; a third was thrown down the main hatchway into the hold and broke his thigh; one of our boatswain's mates broke his collar-bone twice; not to mention many other similar accidents.
These tempests, so dreadful in themselves, though unattended by any other unfavourable circumstances, were yet rendered more mischievous to us by their inequality, and by the deceitful intervals that at times occurred; for, although we had often to lie-to for days together under a reefed mizen, and were frequently reduced to drive at the mercy of the winds and waves under bare poles, yet now and then we ventured to make sail under double-reefed courses; and occasionally, the weather proving more moderate, were perhaps encouraged to set our top-sails; after which, without any previous notice, the wind would return with redoubled force, and would in an instant tear our sails from the yards. And, that no circumstance might be wanting which could aggravate our distress, these blasts generally brought with them a great quantity of snow and sleet, which cased our rigging in ice, and froze our sails, rendering them and our cordage so brittle as to tear and snap with the least strain; adding thereby great difficulty and labour to the working of the ship, benumbing the hands and limbs of our people, and rendering them incapable of exerting themselves with their accustomed activity, and even disabling many of them, by inducing mortification of their toes and fingers. It were, indeed, endless to enumerate the various disasters of different kinds which befel us, and I shall only mention the most material, which will sufficiently evince; the calamitous condition of the whole squadron, during this part of our navigation.
As already observed, it was on the 7th of March that we passed the Straits of Le Maire, and were immediately afterwards driven to the eastwards, by a violent storm, and by the force of the current setting in that direction. During the four or five succeeding days, we had hard gales of wind from the same western quarter, attended by a most prodigious swell; insomuch that, although we stood all that time towards the S.W. we had no reason to imagine we had made any way to the westwards. In this interval we had frequent squalls of rain and snow, and shipped great quantities of water. After this, for three or four days, though the sea ran mountains high, yet the weather was rather more moderate; but, on the 18th; we had again strong gales of wind with excessive cold, and at midnight the main top-sail split, and one of the straps of the main dead-eyes broke. From the 18th to the 23d the weather was more moderate, though, often intermixed with rain and sleet and some hard gales; but, as the waves did not subside, the ship, by labouring sore in this lofty sea, became so loose in her upper-works that she let in water at every seam, so that every part of her within board was constantly exposed to the sea-water, and scarcely any even of the officers ever lay dry in their beds. Indeed, hardly did two nights pass without many of them being driven from their beds by deluges of water.
On the 23d we had a most violent storm of wind, hail, and rain, with a prodigious sea; and, though we handed the main-sail before the height of the squall, yet we found the yard spring; and soon after, in consequence of the foot-rope of the main-sail breaking, the main-sail itself split instantly into rags, and much the greater part of it was blown away, in spite of every endeavour to save it. On this the commodore made the signal for the squadron to bring to; and as the storm lulled into a calm, we had an opportunity to lower the main-yard, and set the carpenters to work upon it, while we also repaired our rigging; after which, having bent a new main-sail, we got again under way with a moderate breeze. But, in less than twenty-four hours, we had another storm, still more furious than the former, which blew a perfect hurricane, and obliged us to lie-to under bare poles. As our ship kept the wind better than any of the rest, we were obliged in the afternoon to wear, in order to join the squadron to leeward, as otherwise we had been in danger of parting from them in the night. On this occasion, as we dared not venture to show any sail to the gale, we had to use an expedient, which answered the purpose: This was putting the helm a-weather and manning the fore-shrouds: But, though this answered the end in view, yet in its execution one of our ablest seamen was canted overboard. Notwithstanding the prodigious agitation of the waves, we could perceive that he swam very vigorously, yet we found ourselves, to our excessive concern, incapable of giving him the smallest assistance; and were the more grieved at his unhappy fate, as we lost sight of him struggling with the waves, and conceived that he might continue long sensible of the horror of his irretrievable situation.
Before this storm was quite abated, we found that two of our main-shrouds and one of our mizen-shrouds were broken, all of which we knotted and replaced immediately. After this we had an interval of three or four days less tempestuous than usual, but accompanied by so thick a fog, that we had to fire guns almost every half hour to keep our squadron together. On the 31st we were alarmed by a gun from the Gloucester, and a signal to speak the commodore. We immediately bore down to her, prepared to learn some terrible disaster, of which we were apprised before we came down, by seeing that her main-yard was broken in the slings. This was a grievous misfortune to us all, at this juncture, as it was evident that it must prove a hinderance to our sailing, and would detain us the longer in these inhospitable latitudes. Our future safety and success was not to be promoted by repining, but by resolution and activity; and therefore, that this unhappy incident might delay us as short as possible, the commodore ordered several carpenters to be put on board the Gloucester from the other ships of the squadron, in order to repair her damage with the utmost expedition. At this time also, the captain of the Tryal represented that his pumps were so bad, and his ship made so much water, that he was scarcely able to keep her free; wherefore the commodore ordered him a pump, ready fitted, from the Centurion. It was very fortunate, both for the Gloucester and Tryal, that the weather proved more favourable that day, than for many days both before and after; since by this means they were enabled to receive the assistance which seemed so essential for their preservation, and which they could scarcely have procured at any other time, as it would have been extremely hazardous to have ventured a boat on board.
Next day, being the 1st of April, the weather returned to its customary bias; the sky looking dark and gloomy, and the wind beginning to freshen and to blow in squalls; yet it was not so boisterous as to prevent us carrying our top-sails close reefed, but its appearance evidently prognosticated that a still more severe tempest was at hand. Accordingly, on the 3d of April, there came on a storm, which, both in its violence and duration, for it lasted three days, exceeded all we had hitherto experienced. In its first onset, we received a furious shock from a sea, which broke upon our larboard quarter, where it stove in the quarter gallery, and rushed into the ship like a deluge. Our rigging suffered also extremely from the blow; among the rest, one of the straps of the main dead-eyes was broken, as were likewise a main shroud and a puttock shroud; so that, to ease the stress upon the masts and shrouds, we had to lower both our main and fore yards, and to furl all our sails. We lay in this posture for three days, when, the storm somewhat abating, we ventured to make sail under our courses only. Even this would not avail us long; for next day, being the 7th, we had another hard gale, accompanied with lightning and rain, which obliged as to lie-to all night.
It was really wonderful, notwithstanding the severe weather we endured, that no extraordinary accident had happened to any of the squadron since the Gloucester broke her main-yard. But this good fortune now no longer attended us, for, at three next morning, several guns were fired to leeward as signals of distress, on which the commodore made the signal for the squadron to bring to. At day-break we saw the Wager a considerable way to leeward of any of the other ships, and soon perceived that she had lost her mizen-mast, and main topsail-yard. We immediately bore down towards her, and found that this disaster had arisen from the badness of her iron-work, as all the chain plates to windward had given way, in consequence of her having fetched a deep roll. This accident proved the more unfortunate for the Wager, as her captain had been on board the Gloucester ever since the 31st March, and the weather was now too severe to permit of his return. Nor was the Wager the only ship in the squadron that suffered in this tempest; for next day, a signal of distress was made by the Anna pink, and on speaking her, we found she had broken her fore-stay and the gammon of her boltsprit, and was in no small danger of all her masts coming by the board; so that the whole squadron had to bear away to leeward till she made all fast, after which we again hauled upon a wind.
After all our solicitude, and the numerous ills of every kind, to which we had been incessantly exposed for near forty days, we now had great consolation in the hope that our fatigues were drawing to a close, and that we should soon arrive in a more hospitable climate, where we should be amply rewarded for all our past toils and sufferings; for, towards the latter end of March, by our reckoning, we had advanced near ten degrees to the west of the westermost point of Terra del Fuego; and, as this allowance was double what former navigators had thought necessary to compensate the drift of the western current, we esteemed ourselves to be well advanced within the limits of the Southern Pacific, and had been, ever since then, standing to the northward, with as much expedition as the turbulence of the weather and our frequent disasters would permit. On the 13th of April, in addition to our before-mentioned westing, we were only one degree of latitude to the southward of the western entrance into the Straits of Magellan, so that we fully expected in a very few days to experience the celebrated tranquillity of the Pacific Ocean. But these were only delusions, which served to render our disappointment more terrible. On the morning of the 14th, between two and three o'clock, the weather, which till then had been hazy, fortunately cleared up, and the pink made a signal for seeing the land right a-head; and, as it was only two miles distant, we were all under the most dreadful apprehensions of running on shore; which, had either the wind blown from its usual quarter, with its wonted violence, or had not the moon suddenly shone out, not a ship of the whole squadron could possibly have avoided. But the wind, which some hours before blew in squalls from the S.W. had fortunately shifted to W.N.W. by which we were enabled to stand to the southward, and to clear ourselves of this sudden and unexpected danger, and were fortunate enough by noon to have gained an offing of near twenty leagues.
By the latitude of this land we fell in with, it was agreed to be that part of Terra del Fuego, near the south-western outlet of the Straits of Magellan, described in Frezier's chart, and was supposed to be that point which he calls Cape Noir. It was indeed wonderful that the current should have driven us to the eastward with so much strength, for the whole squadron computed that we were ten degrees to the westward of this land; so that in turning, by our reckoning, about nineteen degrees of longitude, we had not in reality advanced half that distance: And now, instead of having our labours and anxieties relieved by approaching a warmer climate, and more tranquil seas, we were forced again to steer southwards, and had again to combat those western blasts which had already so often terrified us; and this too, when we were greatly enfeebled by our men falling sick and dying apace, and when our spirits, dejected by long continuance at sea and by this severe disappointment, were now much less capable of supporting us through the various difficulties and dangers, which we could not but look for in this new and arduous undertaking. Added to all this, we were sore discouraged by the diminution in the strength of the squadron; for, three days before this, we had lost sight of the Severn and Pearl in the morning, and, though we spread our ships, and beat about for them for some time, we never saw them more; whence we apprehended that they also had fallen in with this land in the night, and being less favoured by the wind and the moon, might have perished by running on shore. Full of these desponding thoughts and gloomy presages, we stood away to the S.W. prepared, by our late disappointment, how large an allowance soever we made in our westing for the drift of the current from the westward, that we might still find it insufficient upon a second trial.
[Footnote 1: Cape Noir, is a small island off the western coast of Terra del Fuego, is in lat. 54 deg. 28' S. long, 78 deg. 40' W.—E.]
Observations and Directions for facilitating the Passage of future Navigators round Cape Horn.
The improper season of the year in which we attempted to double Cape Horn, and to which is to be imputed the before-recited disappointment, in falling in with Terra del Fuego, when we reckoned ourselves above an hundred leagues to the westward of that coast, and consequently well advanced into the Pacific Ocean, to which we were necessitated by our too late departure from England, was the fatal source of all the misfortunes we afterwards experienced. For, from hence proceeded the separation of our ships, the destruction of so many of our people, the ruin of our project against Baldivia, and of all our other views on the Spanish settlements, and the reduction of our squadron, from the formidable condition in which it passed the Straits of Le Maire, to a couple of shattered half-manned cruizers and a sloop, so exceedingly disabled that, in many climates, they scarcely durst have put to sea. To prevent, therefore, as much as in me lies, the recurrence of similar calamities to all ships bound hereafter to the South Seas, I think it my duty to insert in this place such observations and directions, as either my own experience and reflection, or the conversation of the most skilful navigators on board the squadron, could furnish me with, as to the most eligible manner of doubling Cape Horn, whether in regard to the season of the year, the course proper to be steered, or the places of refreshment both on the eastern and western sides of South America.
To begin with the proper place for refreshment on the eastern side of South America. For this purpose the island of St Catharines has been usually recommended by former writers, and on their authority we put in there; but the treatment we experienced, and the small store of refreshments we could procure their are sufficient reasons to render all ships very cautious in future how they trust to the government of Don Jose Sylva de Paz; for they may assuredly depend on having their strength, condition, and designs betrayed to the Spaniards, as far as the knowledge the governor can procure of these particulars may enable him. As this treacherous conduct was inspired by the views of private gain, in the illicit commerce carried on to the river Plate, rather than by any natural affection between the Portuguese and Spaniards, the same perfidy may perhaps be expected from most of the governors on the coast of Brazil, since these smuggling engagements are doubtless very general and extensive; and, though the governors themselves should detest so faithless a procedure, yet, as ships are perpetually passing from one or other of the Brazilian ports to the Rio Plata, the Spaniards could scarcely fail of receiving intelligence, by this means, of any British ships being on the coast; and, however imperfect such intelligence might be, it might prove injurious to the views and interests of cruizers thus discovered.
As the Spanish trade in the South Seas is all in one direction, from north to south, or the direct reverse, with very little deviation to the eastward or westward, it is in the power, of two or three cruisers, properly stationed on different parts of this track, to possess themselves of every ship that puts to sea. This, however, can only be the case so long as they continue concealed from the neighbouring coast; for, the moment that an enemy is known to be in these seas, all navigation is prohibited, and all chance of capture is consequently at an end; as the Spaniards, well aware of these advantages to an enemy, send expresses all along the coast, and lay a general embargo on all trade; which measure they know will not only prevent their vessels from being taken, but must soon oblige all cruisers, that have not sufficient strength to attempt their settlements on shore, to quit these seas for want of provisions. Hence the great importance of carefully concealing all expeditions of this kind is quite evident; and hence too it is obvious how extremely prejudicial such intelligence must prove as that communicated by the Portuguese to the Spaniards in our case, in consequence of touching at the ports of Brazil. Yet it will often happen that ships, bound beyond Cape Horn, may be obliged to call there for wood, water, and other refreshments; in which case, St Catharines is the very last place I would recommend; both because the proper animals for a live stock at sea, as hogs, sheep, and fowls, are not to be procured there, for want of which we found ourselves greatly distressed, being reduced to live almost entirely on salt provisions; and because, from that port being nearer the Rio Plata than many others of the Portuguese settlements, the inducements and conveniences for betraying us to the Spaniards were so much the stronger. The place I would recommend is Rio Janeiro, where two of our squadron put in, after separating from us in passing Cape Horn. At this place, as I was informed by a gentleman on board one of these ships, any quantity of hogs and poultry can be procured; and as it is more distant from the Rio Plata, the difficulty of sending intelligence to the Spaniards is somewhat increased, and consequently the chance of continuing there undiscovered is so much the greater. Other measures, which may effectually obviate all these embarrassments, will be considered more at large hereafter.
I proceed, in the next place, to consider of the proper measures to be pursued for doubling Cape Horn: And here, I think I am sufficiently authorized, by our own fatal experience, and by a careful comparison and examination of the journals of former navigators, to give the following advice, which ought never, in prudence, to be departed from: Which is, That all ships bound to the South Seas, instead of passing through the Straits of Le Maire, should constantly pass by the eastward of Staten-Land, and should be invariably bent on running as far as the latitude of 61 deg. or 62 deg. S. before they endeavour to stand to the westwards; and ought then to make sure of a sufficient westing in or about that latitude, before commencing a northern course. But, since directions diametrically opposite to these have been formerly given by other writers, it is incumbent on me to produce my reasons for each part of this maxim.
First then, as to the propriety of passing to the eastward of Staten-Land. Those who have attended to the risk we ran in passing the Straits of Le Maire, the danger we were in of being driven upon Staten-Land by the current, when, though we happily escaped being driven on shore, we were yet carried to the eastward of that island: those, I say, who reflect on this and the like accidents which have happened to other ships, will surely not esteem it prudent to pass through these straits and run the risk of shipwreck, and find themselves, after all, no farther to the westward, the only reason hitherto given for this practice, than they might have been, in the same time, by a more secure navigation in an open sea. And next, as to the directions I have given for running into the latitude of 61 deg. or 62 deg. S. before any endeavour is made to stand to the westward. The reasons for this precept are, that, in all probability, the violence of the current setting from the westward will be thereby avoided, and the weather will prove less tempestuous and uncertain. This last circumstance we experienced most remarkably; for after we had unexpectedly fallen in with the land at Cape Noir, we stood away southward to get clear of it; and were no sooner advanced into the lat. of 60 deg. S. or upwards, than we met with much better weather and smoother water than in any other part of this whole passage. The air indeed was very sharp and cold, and we had strong gales, but they were steady and uniform, and we had at the same time sunshine and a clear sky: whereas in the lower latitudes, the wind every now and then intermitted, as it were, to recover new strength, and then returned suddenly in the most violent gusts, threatening at every blast to blow away our masts, which must have proved our inevitable destruction.
Also, that the currents in this high latitude would be of much less efficacy than nearer the land, seems to be evinced by these considerations: That all currents run with greater violence near the shore than out at sea, and that at great distances from the land they are scarcely perceptible. The reason of this seems sufficiently obvious, if we consider that constant currents, in all probability, are produced by constant winds; the wind, though with a slow and imperceptible motion, driving a large body of water continually before it, which, being accumulated on any coast that it meets with in its course, must escape along the shore by the endeavours of the surface to reduce itself to the level of the rest of the ocean. It is likewise reasonable to suppose, that those violent gusts of wind which we experienced near the shore, so very different from what we found in the lat. of 60 deg. S. and upwards, may be owing to a similar cause; for a westerly wind almost perpetually prevails in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, and this current of air being interrupted by the enormously high range of the Andes, and by the mountains on Terra del Fuego, which together bar up the whole country as far south as Cape Horn, a part only of the wind can force its way over the top of these prodigious precipices, while the rest must naturally follow the direction of the coast, and must range down the land to the southward, and sweep with an impetuous and irregular blast round Cape Horn, and the southermost part of Terra del Fuego. Without placing too much reliance on these speculations, we may assume, I believe, as incontestable facts, that both the rapidity of the currents, and the violence of the western gales, are less sensible in lat. 61 deg. or 62 deg. S. than nearer the coasts of Terra del Fuego.
Though satisfied, both from our own experience and the relations of other navigators, of the importance of the precept here insisted on, of proceeding to lat. 61 deg. or 62 deg. S. before any endeavours are made to stand to the westwards, yet I would also advise all ships hereafter not to trust so far to this management as to neglect another most essential maxim: Which is, to make this passage in the height of the antarctic summer, or, in other words, in the months of December and January, which correspond exactly to the months of June and July in our northern or arctic hemisphere: and the more distant the time of passing may be from this season, so much the more disastrous the passage may reasonably be expected to prove. Indeed, if the mere violence of the western winds be considered, the time of our passage, which was about the antarctic autumnal equinox, was perhaps the most favourable period of the whole year. But then it must be considered that there are, independent of the winds, many other inconveniences to be apprehended in the depth of winter, which are almost insuperable. For, at that season, the severity of the cold, and the shortness of the days, would render it impracticable to run so far to the southward as is here recommended. The same reasons would also greatly augment the danger and alarm of sailing, at that season, in the neighbourhood of an unknown shore, dreadful in its appearance, even in the midst of summer, and would render a winter navigation on this coast, beyond all others, most dismaying and terrible. As I would, therefore, advise all ships to make their passage, if possible, in December and January, so I would warn them never to attempt doubling Cape Horn, from the eastward, after the month of March, which is equivalent to our August. As to the remaining consideration, in regard to the most proper place for cruizers to refit at, on their first arrival in the South Seas, there is scarcely any choice, the island of Juan Fernandez being the only place that can be prudently recommended for that purpose. For, although there are many ports on the western side of Patagonia, between the Straits of Magellan, one of which I shall particularly notice in the sequel, in which ships may ride in great safety, and may also recruit their wood and water, and procure some few refreshments, yet that coast is in itself so extremely dangerous, owing to its numerous rocks and breakers, and to the violence of the western winds, which blow upon it continually, that it is by no means advisable to fall in with that coast, at least till the roads, channels, and anchorages in each part of it have been accurately surveyed, and both the perils and shelters with which it abounds are more distinctly known.
Having thus given the best directions in my power, for the success of our cruizers that may be hereafter bound to the South Seas, it might be expected that I should now resume the narrative of our voyage. Yet as, both in the preceding and subsequent parts of this work, I have thought it my duty not only to recite all such facts, and to inculcate such maxims, as had even the least appearance of proving beneficial to future navigators, and also to recommend such measures to the public as seemed adapted to promote the same laudable purpose, I cannot desist from the present subject without beseeching those persons to whom the conduct of our naval affairs is confided, to endeavour to remove the many perplexities and embarrassments with which the navigation to the South Sea is at present encumbered. An effort of this kind could not fail of proving highly honourable to themselves, and extremely beneficial to their country; for it is sufficiently evident, that whatever improvements navigation shall receive, either by the invention of methods by which its practice may be rendered less hazardous, or by the more accurate delineation of the coasts, roads, and harbours already known, or by the discovery of new countries and nations, or of new species and sources of commerce, the advantages thence arising must ultimately redound to the emolument of Great Britain. Since, as our fleets are at present superior to those of the whole world united, it must be a matchless degree of supineness or meanness of spirit, if we permit any of the advantages deriveable from new discoveries, or from a more extended navigation, to be ravished from us.
Since it appears, from what has been already said, that all our future expeditions to the South Seas must run a considerable risk of proving abortive, while we remain under the necessity of touching at Brazil in our passage thither, the discovery of some place more to the southward, where ships might refresh, and supply themselves with the necessary sea stock for their passage round Cape Horn, would relieve us from this embarrassment, and would surely be a matter worthy of the attention of the public. Neither does this seem difficult to be effected, as we already have an imperfect knowledge of two places, which might perhaps prove, on examination, extremely convenient for this purpose. One of these is Pepy's Island, in the latitude of 47 deg. S. and laid down by Dr Bailey about eighty leagues to the eastward of Cape Blanco, on the coast of Patagonia. The other is Falkland's Islands, in lat. 51 deg. 30' S. nearly south of Pepy's Island.
[Footnote 1: Isla Grande, supposed to be the Pepy's Island discovered by Cowley, is in lat. 46 deg. 34' S. and is placed by Mr Dalrymple in long. 46 deg. 40' W. while the illustrious navigator Cook makes its long. 35 deg. 40' W. a difference of longitude of no less than eleven degrees.]
[Footnote 2: The centre of Falkland's Islands is in 51 deg. 45' S. Janson's Islands, the most north-westerly of the group, or the Sebaldines, is in 51 deg.; and Beauchene's Isle, the most southerly, in 53 deg. S.—E.]
The first of these was discovered by Captain Cowley in 1683, during his voyage round the world, and is represented by that navigator as a commodious place for ships to wood and water at, being provided with a good and capacious harbour, where a thousand sail of ships might ride at anchor in great safety, being also the resort of vast numbers of fowls; and as its shores consist of either rocks or sands, it seems to promise great plenty of fish. Falkland's Islands have been seen by many navigators, both French and English. It is laid down by Frezier, in his chart of the extremity of South America, under the name of the New Islands. Woods Rogers, who ran along the N.E. coasts of these islands in 1708, says they extend about two degrees in length, and appeared with gentle descents from hill to hill, seeming to be good ground, interspersed with woods, and not destitute of harbours.
[Footnote 3: The west extremity of this group is in long. 62 deg. W. and the east extremity in 56 deg. 43' W. so that their extent is 5 deg. 12' in difference of longitude.—E.]
Either of these places, being islands at a considerable distance from the continent, may be supposed, from their latitude, to be situated in a sufficiently temperate climate. They are both, it is true, too little known at present to be recommended as the most eligible places of refreshment for ships bound to the South Seas: But, if the admiralty should think proper to order them to be surveyed, which might be done at a very small expence, by a vessel fitted out on purpose; and if, on examination, either one or both should appear proper for serving the end in view, it is scarcely possible to conceive how exceedingly important so convenient a station might prove, so far to the southward, and so near Cape Horn. The Duke and Duchess of Bristol, under Woods Rogers, were only thirty-five days from losing sight of Falkland's Islands to their arrival at Juan Fernandez, in the South Sea; and, as the return back is much facilitated by the western winds, a voyage might doubtless be made from Falkland's Islands to Juan Fernandez and back again in little more than two months. Even in time of peace, this station might be of great consequence to the nation; and in time of war, would render us masters of those seas.
As all discoveries of this kind, though extremely honourable to those who direct and promote them, may yet be carried on at an inconsiderable expence, since small vessels are much the most proper to be employed in this service, it were greatly to be wished that the whole coasts of Patagonia, Terra del Fuego, and Staten-Land, were carefully surveyed, and the numerous channels, roads, harbours, and islands, in which they abound, accurately examined, described, and represented. This might open to us vast facilities for passing into the South Seas, such as hitherto we have no knowledge of, and would render the whole of that southern navigation greatly more secure than it is at present: Particularly as exact draughts of the western coast of Patagonia, from the Straits of Magellan to the Spanish settlements, might furnish us with better and more convenient ports for refreshment, and better situated, both for the purposes of war and commerce, than Juan Fernandez, as being above a fornight's sail nearer to Falkland's Islands.
The discovery of this coast was formerly thought of so much importance, by reason of its neighbourhood to the Araucos and other Indians of Chili, who are generally at war, or at least on ill terms, with the Spaniards, that, in the reign of Charles II. Sir John Narborough was purposely fitted out to survey the Straits of Magellan, the neighbouring coast of Patagonia, and the Spanish ports on that frontier, with directions, if possible, to procure some intercourse with the Chilese Indians, and to establish a commerce and lasting correspondence with them. His majesty's views, on this occasion, were not solely directed to the advantage he might hope to receive from an alliance with these savages, in restraining and intimidating the king of Spain, but he even conceived, independent of these considerations, that an immediate traffic with these Indians might prove highly advantageous to the nation; for it is well known that Chili, at its first discovery by the Spaniards, abounded in vast quantities of gold, much beyond what it has ever produced since it came into their possession. Hence it has been generally believed, that the richest mines are carefully concealed by the Indians, as well knowing that their discovery would excite in the Spaniards a greater thirst for conquest and tyranny, and would render their own independence more precarious. But, in regard to their commerce with the English, could that be established, these reasons would no longer influence them; since it would be in our power to supply them with arms and ammunition of all kinds, together with many other conveniences, which their intercourse with the Spaniards has taught them to relish. They would then, in all probability, open their mines, and gladly embrace a traffic of such mutual advantage to both nations: For their gold, instead of proving an incitement to enslave them, would then procure them weapons with which to assert their liberty, to chastise their tyranny, and to secure themselves for ever from falling under the Spanish yoke; while, with our assistance, and under our protection, they might become a considerable people, and might secure to us that wealth, which was formerly most mischievously lavished by the house of Austria, and lately by the house of Bourbon, in pursuit of universal monarchy.
It is true, that Sir John Narborough did not succeed in opening this commerce, which promised, in appearance, so many advantages to the nation: But his disappointment was merely accidental; and his transactions on that coast, besides the many advantages he furnished to geography and navigation, are rather an encouragement for future trials of this kind, than any objection against them. His principal misfortune was in losing a small bark that accompanied him, and having some of his people trepanned at Baldivia. It even appeared, by the fears and precautions of the Spaniards, that they were fully convinced of the practicability of the scheme he was sent to execute, and were extremely alarmed with apprehensions for its consequences. It is said that Charles II. was so far prepossessed with the belief of the advantages that might redound to the public from this expedition, and was so eager to be informed of the event, on receiving intelligence of Sir John Narborough passing through the Downs on his return, that he had not patience to wait till his arrival at court, but went himself in his barge to meet him at Gravesend.
The two most famous charts hitherto published, [i.e. in 1745,] of the southern parts of South America, are those of Dr Halley, in his General Chart of the Magnetic Variation, and of Frezier, in his Voyage to the South Seas. Besides these, there is a chart of the Straits of Magellan and some parts of the adjacent coast, by Sir John Narborough, which is doubtless infinitely more exact in that part than Frezier's, and even in some parts superior to Halley's, particularly in regard to the longitudes of different places in these straits. We were in some measure capable of correcting, by our own observations, the coast from Cape Blanco to Terra del Fuego, and thence to the Straits of Le Maire, as we ranged along that coast, generally in sight of land. The position of the land to the northward of the Straits of Magellan, on the western side of Patagonia, is doubtless laid down very imperfectly in our charts; and yet I believe it to be much nearer the truth than any hitherto published; as it was drawn from the information of some of the crew of the Wager, which was shipwrecked on that coast; and as it pretty nearly agrees with what I have seen in some Spanish manuscripts. The channel, called Whale Sound, dividing Terra del Fuego, towards the western extremity of the Straits of Magellan, was represented by Frezier; but Sir Francis Drake, who first discovered Cape Horn, and the south-west parts of Terra del Fuego, observed that the whole coast was indented by a great number of inlets, all of which he conceived to communicate with the Straits of Magellan: And I do not doubt, when this country shall be thoroughly examined, that this conjecture will be verified, and that Terra del Fuego will be found to consist of several islands.
I must not omit warning all future navigators against relying on the longitude of the Straits of Le Maire, or of any part of that coast, as laid down by Frezier; the whole being from eight to ten degrees too far to the eastward, if any faith can be given to the concurrent evidences of a great number of journals, verified, in some particulars, by astronomical observations. For instance, Sir John Narborough places Cape Virgin Mary in long. 65 deg. 42' W. from the Lizard, or about 71 deg. 20' from London. The ships of our squadron, taking their departure from St Catharines, where the longitude was rectified by an observation of an eclipse of the moon, found Cape Virgin Mary to be from 70 deg. 15' to 72 deg. 30' W. from London, according to their different reckonings; and, as there were no circumstances in our run that could Tender it considerably erroneous, it cannot be estimated in less than 71 deg. W. from London; whereas Frezier makes it only 66 deg. W. from Paris, which is little more than 63 deg. from London. Again, our squadron found the difference of longitude between Cape Virgin Mary and the Straits of Le Maire to be not more than 2 deg. 30', while Frezier makes the difference nearly 4 deg., by which he enlarged the coast, from the Straits of Magellan to the Straits of Le Maire, to near double its real extent.
[Footnote 4: Only 67 deg. 40' W. from Greenwich.—E.]
[Footnote 5: The Straits of Le Maire are in long. 65 deg. 30' W. so that the difference is 2 deg. 10'.]
[Footnote 6: Some farther critical observations on the geographical positions, as laid down by Frezier, Sir John Narborough, and Dr Halley, are here omitted, as tending to no use or information; these things having been since ascertained with much more accuracy.—E.]
Course from Cape Noir to the Island of Juan Fernandez.
After the mortifying disappointment of falling in with the coast of Terra del Fuego, at Cape Noir, when we reckoned ourselves ten degrees to the westward of it, as formerly mentioned to have happened on the 14th of April, we stood away to the S.W. till the 22d of that month, when we were in upwards of 60 deg. S. and, by our reckoning, 6 deg. westwards of Cape Noir. In this run, we had a series of as favourable weather as could well be expected in that part of the world, even in a better season of the year; so that this interval, setting aside our disquietudes on various accounts, was by far the most eligible of any we had enjoyed since passing the Straits of Le Maire. This moderate weather continued, with little variation, till the evening of the 24th, when the wind began to blow fresh, and soon increased to a prodigious storm. About midnight, the weather being very thick, we lost sight of the other ships of the squadron, which had hitherto kept us company, notwithstanding the violence of the preceding storms. Neither was this our sole misfortune, for next morning, while endeavouring to hand the top-sails, the clew-lines and bunt-lines broke, and the sheets being half flown, every seam in the top-sails was soon split from top to bottom. The main top-sail shook so violently in the wind, that it carried away the top lanthorn, and even endangered the head of the mast. At length, however, some of the boldest of our men ventured upon the yard, and cut the sail away close to the reefs, with the utmost hazard of their lives. At the same time, the fore top-sail beat about the yard with so much fury, that it was soon blown to pieces. The main-sail also blew loose, which obliged us to lower down the yard to secure the sail; and the fore-yard also being lowered, we lay-to under a mizen. In this storm, besides the loss of our top-sails, we had much of our rigging broken, and lost a main studding-sail boom out of the chains.
The weather became more moderate on the 25th at noon, which enabled us to sway up our yards, and to repair our shattered rigging in the best manner we could; but still we had no sight of the rest of our squadron, neither did any of them rejoin us till after our arrival at Juan Fernandez; nor, as we afterwards learnt, did any two of them continue in company together. This total, and almost instantaneous separation was the more wonderful, as we had hitherto kept together for seven weeks, through all the reiterated tempests of this turbulent climate. It must be owned, indeed, that we had hence room to expect we might make our passage in a shorter time than if we had continued together, because we could now make the best of our way, without being retarded by the misfortunes of the other ships; but then we had the melancholy reflection, that we were thereby deprived of the assistance of others, and our safety depended solely on our single ship; so that, if a plank started, or any other important accident occurred, we must all irrecoverably perish. Or, should we happen to be driven on shore, we had the uncomfortable prospect of ending our days on some desolate coast, without any reasonable hope of ever getting off again; whereas, with another ship in company, all these calamities are much less formidable, as in every kind of danger there would always be some probability that one ship at least might escape, and be capable of preserving or relieving the crew of the other.
During the remainder of April, we had generally hard gales, though every day, since the 22d, edging to the northward. On the last day of the month, however, we flattered ourselves with the expectation of soon terminating our sufferings, as we then found ourselves in lat. 52 deg. 13' S. which, being to the northward of the Straits of Magellan, we were now assured that we had completed our passage, and were arrived on the confines of the South Sea: And, as this ocean is denominated the Pacific, from the equability of the seasons said to prevail there, and the facility and security with which navigation is there carried on, we doubted not that we should be speedily cheered with the moderate gales, the smooth water, and the temperate air, for which that portion of the globe is so renowned. Under the influence of these pleasing circumstances, we hoped to experience some compensation for the complicated sufferings, which had so constantly beset us for the last eight weeks. Yet here we were again miserably disappointed; for, in the succeeding month of May, our sufferings rose even to a much higher pitch than they had ever yet done, whether we consider the violence of the storms, the shattering of our sails and rigging, or the diminution and weakening of our crew by deaths and sickness, and the even threatening prospect of our utter destruction. All this will be sufficiently evident, from the following circumstantial recital of our diversified misfortunes.
Soon after we had passed the Straits of Le Maire, the scurvy began to make its appearance among us, and our long continuance at sea, the fatigue we underwent, and the various disappointments we met with, had occasioned its spreading to such a degree, that there were but few on board, by the latter end of April, that were not afflicted with it in some degree; and in that month no less than forty-three died of it in the Centurion. Although we thought the distemper had then risen to an extraordinary height, and were willing to hope that its malignity might abate as we advanced to the northward, we yet found, on the contrary, that we lost near double that number in the month of May; and, as we did not get to land till the middle of June, the mortality went on increasing, and so prodigiously did the disease extend, that, after the loss of above 200 men, we could not muster at the last above six foremast-men in a watch that were capable of duty.
This disease, so frequent in long voyages, and so particularly destructive to us, is surely the most singular and unaccountable of any that affects the human body. Its symptoms are innumerable and inconstant, and its progress and effects singularly irregular, for scarcely have any two persons complaints exactly resembling each other; and where there have been, some conformity in the symptoms, the order of their appearance has been totally different. Though it frequently puts on the form of many other diseases, and is not therefore to be described by any exclusive and infallible criterions, yet there are some symptoms which are more general than the rest, and of more frequent and constant occurrence, and which therefore deserve a more particular enumeration. These common appearances are large discoloured spots dispersed over the whole surface of the body, swelled legs, putrid gums, and, above all, an extraordinary lassitude of the whole body, especially after any exercise, however inconsiderable and this lassitude at last degenerates into a proneness to swoon, and even to die, on the least exertion of strength, or even on the least motion. This disease is usually attended, also, by a strange dejection of spirits, with shiverings, tremblings, and a disposition to be seized with the most dreadful terrors on the slightest accident. Indeed it was most remarkable, in all our reiterated experience of this malady, that whatever discouraged our people, or at any time damped their hopes, never failed to add new vigour to the distemper, for such usually killed those who were in the last stages of the disease, and confined those to their hammocks who were before capable of some kind of duty, so that it seemed as if alacrity of mind and sanguine hopes were no small preservatives from its fatal malignity.
But it is not easy to complete the long roll of the various concomitants of this disease; for it often produced putrid fevers, pleurisies, jaundice, and violent rheumatic pains, and sometimes occasioned obstinate costiveness, which was generally attended with a difficulty of breathing, and this was esteemed the most deadly of all the scorbutic symptoms. At other times the whole body, but more especially the legs, were subject to ulcers of the worst kind, attended by rotten bones, and such a luxuriance of fungous flesh as yielded to no remedy. The most extraordinary circumstance, and which would scarcely be credible upon any single evidence, was, that the scars of wounds that had been healed for many years, were forced open again by this virulent distemper. There was a remarkable instance of this in the case of one of the invalid soldiers on board the Centurion, who had been wounded above fifty years before, at the battle of the Boyne; and though he was cured soon after, and had continued well for a great many years, yet, on being attacked by the scurvy, his wounds broke out afresh in the progress of the disease, and appeared as if they had never been healed. What is even still more extraordinary, the callus of a broken bone, which had been completely formed for a long time, was dissolved in the course of this disease, and the fracture seemed as if it had never been consolidated. The effects, indeed, of this disease, were in almost every instance wonderful, for many of our people, though confined to their hammocks, appeared to have no inconsiderable share of health, as they eat and drank heartily, were even cheerful, talking with much seeming vigour with a loud strong voice; and yet, on being in the least moved, though only from one part of the ship to another, and that too in their hammocks, they would instantly expire. Others, who have confided in their seeming strength, and have resolved to get out of their hammocks, have died before they could well reach the decks; neither was it uncommon for such as were able to walk the deck, and even to perform some kind of duty, to drop down dead in an instant, on any attempt to act with their utmost effort; many of our people having perished in this manner in the course of our voyage.
We struggled under this terrible disease during the greatest part of the time of our beating round Cape Horn; and though it did not then rage with its utmost violence, yet we buried no less than forty-three men in the month of April, as formerly observed. We were still, however, in hopes of seeing a period to this cruel malady, and to all the other evils which had so constantly pursued us, when we should have secured our passage round the Cape: but we found, to our heavy misfortune, that the (so-called) Pacific Ocean was to us less hospitable even than the turbulent neighbourhood of Terra del Fuego and Cape Horn. On the 8th of May, being arrived of the island of Socoro, on the western coast of Patagonia, [in lat. 44 deg. 50' S. long. 73 deg. 45' W.] the first rendezvous appointed for the squadron, and where we hoped to have met with some of our consorts, we cruized for them in that station several days. We were here not only disappointed in our expectations of meeting our friends, which induced the gloomy apprehensions of their having all perished, but were also perpetually alarmed with the fear of being driven on this coast, which appeared too craggy and irregular to give us the least prospect, in such a case, that any of us could possibly escape immediate destruction. The land, indeed, had a most tremendous aspect. The most distant part, far within the country, being the mountains of the Andes, or Cordelieras, was extremely high, and covered with snow; while the coast seemed quite rocky and barren, and the edge of the water skirted with precipices. In some places, indeed, we observed several deep bays running; into the land; but their entrances were generally blocked up by numbers of small islands; and though it was not improbable but there might be convenient shelter in some of the bays, and proper channels leading to them, yet, as we were utterly ignorant of the coast, had we been driven ashore by the westerly winds, which blew almost incessantly we could not well have avoided the loss both of the ship and of our lives.
This continued peril which lasted above a fortnight, was greatly aggraved by the difficulties we found in working the ship; as the scurvy, by this time, had destroyed so great a number of our hands, and had in some degree infected almost the whole crew. Neither did we, as we hoped, find the winds less violent as we advanced to the northward; for we had often prodigious squalls of wind, which split our sails, greatly damaged our rigging, and endangered our masts. Indeed, during much the greatest part of the time we were upon this coast, the wind blew so hard that, in any other situation where we had sufficient sea-room, we should certainly have lain-to; but, in the present exigency, we were necessitated to carry both our courses and top-sails, in order to keep clear of this lee-shore. In one of these squalls, which was attended by several violent claps of thunder, a sudden flash of fire darted along our decks, which dividing, exploded with a report like that of several pistols, and wounded many of our men and officers, marking them in different parts of their bodies. This flame was attended by a strong, sulphurous stench, and was doubtless of the same nature with the larger and more violent flashes of lightning which then filled the air.
It were endless to recite minutely the various disasters, fatigues, and terrors, which we encountered on this coast, all of which went on increasing till the 22d of May; at which time the fury of all the storms we had hitherto encountered seemed to have combined for our destruction. In this hurricane almost all our sails were split, and a great part of our standing rigging broken. About eight in the evening, an overgrown mountainous wave took us upon our star-board quarter, and gave us so prodigious a shock that several of our shrouds broke with the jerk, to the great danger of our masts giving way, and our ballast and stores were so strangely shifted, that the ship heeled afterwards two streaks to port. This was a most tremendous blow, and we were thrown into the utmost consternation, having the dismal apprehension of instantly foundering. Though the wind abated in a few hours, yet, having no sails left in a condition to bend to the yards, the ship laboured exceedingly in a hollow sea, rolling gunwale too, for want of sail to keep her steady, so that we every moment expected that our masts, now very slenderly supported, would have come by the board. We exerted ourselves, however, the best we could, to stirrup our shrouds, to reeve new lanyards, and to mend our sails: But, while these necessary operations were going on, we ran great risk of being driven ashore on the island of Chiloe, which was not far from us. In the midst of our peril, the wind happily shifted to the southward, and we steered off the land with the main-sail only; at which time the master and I undertook the management of the helm, while every one else, capable of acting, were busied in securing the masts, and bending the sails as fast as they could be repaired. This was the last effort of that stormy climate; for, in a day or two after, we got clear of the land, and found the weather more moderate than we had yet experienced since passing the Straits of Le Maire.
Having now cruized in vain, for the other ships of the squadron, during more than a fortnight, it was resolved to take advantage of the present favourable weather, and the offing we had made from this terrible coast, and to make the best of our way for the island of Juan Fernandez. It is true that our next rendezvous was appointed off Baldivia; yet, as we had seen none of our companions at this first rendezvous, it was not to be supposed that any of them would be found at the second, and indeed we had the greatest reason to suspect that all but ourselves had perished. Besides, we were now reduced to so low a condition, that, instead of pretending to attack the settlements of the enemy, our utmost hopes could only suggest the possibility of saving the ship, and some part of the remaining crew, by a speedy arrival at Juan Fernandez; as that was the only place, in this part of the world, where there was any probability of recovering our sick or refitting our ship, and consequently our getting thither was the only chance we had left to avoid perishing at sea.
Our deplorable situation allowing no room for deliberation, we stood for the island of Juan Fernandez; and, to save time, which was now extremely precious, as our men were dying by four, five, and six of a day, and likewise to avoid being again engaged on a lee shore, we resolved to endeavour to hit that island upon a meridian. On the 28th of May, being nearly in the parallel on which it is laid down, we had great expectations of seeing that island; but, not finding it in the position laid down in our charts, we began to fear that we had got too far to the westward; and therefore, though the commodore was strongly persuaded that he saw it in the morning of the 28th, yet his officers believing it to have been only a cloud, to which opinion the haziness of the weather gave some countenance, it was resolved, on consultation, to stand to the eastward in the parallel of the island; as, by this course, we should certainly fall in with the island, if we were already to the westward of it, or should at least make the main land of Chili, whence we could take a new departure, so as not to miss it a second time in running to the westward.
Accordingly, on the 30th May, we had sight of the continent of Chili, distant about twelve or thirteen leagues, the land appearing very low and uneven, and quite white; what we saw being doubtless a part of the Cordilleras, which are always covered with snow. Though by this view of the land we ascertained our position, yet it gave us great uneasiness to find that we had so needlessly altered our course, when we had been, in all probability, just upon the point of making the island: For the mortality among us was now increased to a most frightful degree, and those who remained were utterly dispirited by this new disappointment, and the prospect of their longer continuance at sea. Our water, too, began to grow scarce, and a general dejection prevailed among us, which added much to the virulence of the disease, and destroyed numbers of our best men. To all these calamities, there was added this vexatious circumstance, after getting sight of the main land, that we were so much delayed by calms and contrary winds, while tacking westwards in quest of the island, that it took us nine days to regain the westing, which we ran down in two when standing to the eastward.
In this desponding condition, and under these disheartening circumstances, we stood to the westward, with a crazy ship, a great scarcity of fresh water, and a crew so universally diseased, that there were not above ten foremast men in a watch capable of doing duty, and even some of these lame and unable to go aloft. At last, at day-break on the 9th of June, we discovered the long-wished-for island of Juan Fernandez. Owing to our suspecting ourselves to be to the westward of this island on the 28th of May, and in consequence of the delay occasioned by our standing in for the main and returning, we lost between seventy and eighty of our men, whom we had doubtless saved, if we had made the island on that day, which we could not have failed to do, if we had kept on our course only for a few hours longer.
Arrival of the Centurion at Juan Fernandez, with a Description of that Island.
As mentioned in the preceding section, we descried the island of Juan Fernandez at day-break on the 9th June, bearing N. by E. 1/2 E. distant eleven or twelve leagues. Though on this first view it appeared very mountainous, ragged, and irregular, yet it was land, and the land we sought for, and was therefore a most agreeable sight: because here only we could hope to put a period to those terrible calamities with which we had so long struggled, which had already swept away above half of our crew, and which, had we continued only a few days longer at sea, must inevitably have completed our destruction. For we were now reduced to so helpless a condition, that, out of two hundred and odd men who remained alive, taking all our watches together, we could not muster hands now to work the ship on any emergency, even including the officers, the servants, and the boys.
The wind being northerly when we first made the island, we kept plying to windward all that day, and the ensuing night, in order to get in with the land; and, while wearing ship in the middle watch, we had a melancholy instance of the almost incredible debility of our people; for the lieutenant could muster no more than two quarter-masters and six foremast men capable of working; so that, without the assistance of the officers, servants, and boys, it might have been impossible for us to have reached the island after we got sight of it; and even with their assistance, we were two hours in trimming the sails; to so wretched a condition were we reduced, in a sixty-gun ship, which had passed the Straits of Le Maire only three months before with between four and five hundred men, most of them then in health and vigour.
In the afternoon of the 10th, we got under the lee of the island, and kept ranging along its coast at the distance of about two miles, in order to look out for the proper anchorage, which was described to be in a bay on its north side. Being now so near the shore, we could perceive that the broken craggy precipices, which had appeared so very unpromising from a distance, were far from barren, being in most places covered by woods; and that there were every where the finest vallies interspersed between them, cloathed with a most beautiful verdure, and watered by numerous streams and cascades, every valley of any extent being provided with its own rill; and we afterwards found that the water was constantly clear, and not inferior to any we had ever met with. The aspect of a country thus beautifully diversified would at any time have been extremely delightful; but, in our distressed situation, languishing as we were for the land and its vegetable productions, an indication constantly attending every stage of the sea-scurvy, it is scarcely credible with what eagerness and transport we viewed the shore, and with how much impatience we longed for the greens and other refreshments which were in sight. We were particularly anxious for the water, as we had been confined to a very sparing allowance for a considerable time, and had then only five tons remaining on board. Those only who have endured a long series of thirst, and who can readily recall the desire and agitation which even the ideas alone of springs and brooks have at that time raised in their minds, can judge of the emotion with which we viewed a large cascade of the purest water, which poured into the sea at a short distance from the ship, from a rock near a hundred feet high. Even those of the sick who were not in the very last stage of the distemper, though they had been long confined to their hammocks, exerted their small remains of strength, and crawled up to the deck, to feast their eyes with this reviving prospect.
We thus coasted along the island, fully occupied in contemplating this enchanting landscape, which still improved as we proceeded. But at last the night closed upon us, before we could determine upon the proper bay in which to anchor. It was resolved, therefore, to keep in soundings all night, having then from sixty-four to seventy fathoms, and to send our boat next morning to discover the road. The current shifted, however, in the night, and set us so near the land that we were obliged to let go our best bower in fifty-six fathoms, not half a mile from shore. At four next morning, the cutter was dispatched, under our third-lieutenant, to find out the bay of which we were in search. The boat returned at noon, full of seals and grass; for though the island abounded with better vegetables, the boat's crew, during their short stay, had not met any other, and thought even this would be acceptable as a dainty, and indeed it was all speedily and eagerly devoured. The seals, too, were considered as fresh provision, but were not much admired, though they afterwards came into more repute; but we had taken a prodigious quantity of excellent fish during the absence of the boat, which rendered the seals less valuable at this time.