At first it was a great surprise to me how these men knew where they were, for we never saw anything but sky and sea, and not even the admirals carried a chronometer or could work out a longitude; and only a small percentage of the skippers could read or write. They all, however, carried a sextant and could by rule of thumb find a latitude roughly. But that was only done at a pinch. The armed lead was the fisherman's friend. It was a heavy lead with a cup on the bottom filled fresh each time with sticky grease. When used, the depth was always called out by the watch, and the kind of sand, mud, or rock which stuck to the grease shown to the skipper. "Fifteen fathoms and coffee grounds—must be on the tail end of the Dogger. Put her a bit more to the westward, boy," he would remark, and think no more about it, though he might have been three or four days looking for his fleet, and not spoken to a soul since he left land. I remember one skipper used to have the lead brought down below, and he could tell by the grit between his teeth after a couple of soundings which way to steer. It sounds strange even now, but it was so universal, being just second-nature to the men, who from boyhood had lived on the sea, that we soon ceased to marvel at it. Skippers were only just being obliged to have certificates. These they obtained by viva voce examinations. You would sometimes hear an aspiring student, a great black-bearded pirate over forty-seven inches around the chest, and possibly the father of eight or ten children, as he stamped about in his watch keeping warm, repeating the courses—"East end of the Dogger to Horn S.E. by E. 1/2 and W. point of the island [Heligoland] to Barkum S. 1/2 W. Ower Light to Hazebrough N.N.W."—and so on. Their memories were not burdened by a vast range of facts, but in these things they were the nearest imaginable to Blind Tom, the famous slave musician.
Our long round only occupied us about a month, and after that we settled down with the fleet known as the Great Northerners. Others were the Short Blues, the Rashers (because they were streaked like a piece of bacon), the Columbia, the Red Cross, and so on. Sometimes during the night while we were fishing into the west, a hundred sail or more of vessels, we would pass through another big fleet coming the other way, and some of our long trawls and warps would tangle with theirs. Beyond the beautiful spectacle of the myriads of lights bobbing up and down often enough on mighty rough seas—for it needed good breezes to haul our trawls—would be the rockets and flares of the entangled boats, and often enough also rockets and flares from friends, and from cutters. One soon became so friendly with the men that one would not return at night to the ship, but visit around and rejoin the Mission ship boarding fish next day, to see patients coming for aid. Though it was strictly against sea rules for skippers to be off their vessels all night, that was a rule, like all others on the North Sea, as often marked in the breach as in the observance. A goodly company would get together yarning and often singing and playing games until it was time to haul the trawl and light enough to find their own vessel and signal for the boat.
The relation of my new friends to religion was a very characteristic one. Whatever they did, they did hard. Thus one of the admirals, being a thirsty soul, and the grog vessels having been adrift for a longer while than he fancied, conceived the fine idea of holding up the Heligoland saloons. So one bright morning he "hove his fleet to" under the lee of the island and a number of boats went ashore, presumably to sell fish. Altogether they landed some five hundred men, who held up the few saloons for two or three days. As a result subsequently only one crew selling fish to the island was allowed ashore at one time. The very gamble of their occupation made them do things hard. Thus it was a dangerous task to throw out a small boat in half a gale of wind, fill her up with heavy boxes of fish, and send her to put these over the rail of a steamer wallowing in the trough of a mountainous sea.
But it was on these very days when less fish was sent to market that the best prices were realized, and so there were always a number of dare-devils, who did not care if lives were lost so long as good prices were obtained and their record stood high on the weekly list of sales which was forwarded to both owners and men. I have known as many as fourteen men upset in one morning out of these boats; and the annual loss of some three hundred and fifty men was mostly from this cause. Conditions were subsequently improved by the Board of Trade, who made it manslaughter against the skipper if any man was drowned boarding fish, unless the admiral had shown his flags to give the fleet permission to do so. In those days, however, I often saw twenty to thirty boats all tied up alongside the cutter at one time, the heavy seas every now and again rolling the cutter's sail right under water, and when she righted again it might come up under the keels of some of the boats and tip them upside down. Thus any one in them was caught like a mouse under a trap or knocked to pieces trying to swim among the rushing, tossing boats.
As a rule we hauled at midnight, and it was always a fresh source of wonder, for the trawl was catholic in its embrace and brought up anything that came in its way. To emphasize how comparatively recently the Channel had been dry land, many teeth and tusks of mammoths who used to roam its now buried forests were given up to the trawls by the ever-shifting sands. Old wreckage of every description, ancient crockery, and even a water-logged, old square-rigger that must have sunk years before were brought one day as far as the surface by the stout wire warp. After the loss of a large steamer called the Elbe many of the passengers who had been drowned were hauled up in this way; and on one occasion great excitement was caused in Hull by a fisher lad from that port being picked up with his hands tied behind his back and a heavy weight on his feet. The defence was that the boy had died, and was thus buried to save breaking the voyage—supported by the fact that another vessel had also picked up the boy and thrown him overboard again for the same reason. But those who were a bit superstitious thought otherwise, and more especially as cruelty to these boys was not unknown.
These lads were apprenticed to the fishery masters largely from industrial or reformatory schools, had no relations to look after them, and often no doubt gave the limit of trouble and irritation. On the whole, however, the system worked well, and a most excellent class of capable seamen was developed. At times, however, they were badly exploited. During their apprenticeship years they were not entitled to pay, only to pocket money, and yet sometimes the whole crew including the skipper were apprentices and under twenty-one years of age. Even after that they were fitted for no other calling but to follow the sea, and had to accept the master's terms. There were no fishermen's unions, and the men being very largely illiterate were often left victims of a peonage system in spite of the Truck Acts. The master of a vessel has to keep discipline, especially in a fleet, and the best of boys have faults and need punishing while on land. These skippers themselves were brought up in a rough school, and those who fell victims to drink and made the acquaintance of the remedial measures of our penal system of that day were only further brutalized by it. Religion scarcely touched the majority; for their brief periods of leave ashore were not unnaturally spent in having a good time. To those poisoned by the villainous beverages sold on the sordid grog vessels no excess was too great. Owners were in sympathy with the Mission in trying to oust the coper, because their property, in the form of fish, nets, stores, and even sails, were sometimes bartered on the high seas for liquor. On one occasion during a drunken quarrel in the coper's cabin one skipper threw the kerosene lamp over another lying intoxicated on the floor. His heavy wool jersey soaked in kerosene caught fire. He rushed for the deck, and then, a dancing mass of flames, leaped overboard and disappeared.
Occasionally skippers devised punishments with a view to remedying the defects of character. Thus one lad, who through carelessness had on more than one occasion cooked the "duff" for dinner badly, was made to take his cinders on deck when it was his time to turn in, and go forward to the fore-rigging. Then he had to take one cinder, go up to the cross-tree, and throw it over into the sea, come down the opposite rigging and repeat the act until he had emptied his scuttle. Another who had failed to clean the cabin properly had one night, instead of going to bed, to take a bucketful of sea water and empty it with a teaspoon into another, and so to and fro until morning. On one occasion a poor boy was put under the ballast deck, that is, the cabin floor, and forgotten. He was subsequently found dead, drowned in the bilge water. It was easy to hide the results of cruelty, for being washed overboard was by no means an uncommon way of disappearing from vessels with low freeboards in the shallow water of the North Sea.
A very practical outcome in the mission work was the organization of the Fisher Lads' Letter-Writing Association. The members accepted so many names of orphan lads at sea and pledged themselves to write regularly to them. Also, if possible, they were to look them up when they returned to land, and indeed do for them much as the War Camp Community League members are to-day trying to accomplish for our soldiers and sailors. As every practical exposition of love must, it met with a very real response, and brought, moreover, new interests and joys into many selfish lives.
I remember one lady whose whole care in life had been her own health. She had nursed it, and worried over it, and enjoyed ill health so long, that only the constant recourse to the most refined stimulants postponed the end which would have been a merciful relief—to others. The effort of letter-writing remade her. Doctors were forgotten, stimulants were tabooed, the insignia of invalidism banished, and to my intense surprise I ran across her at a fishing port surrounded by a bevy of blue-jerseyed lads, who were some of those whom she was being blessed by helping.
The best of efforts, however, sometimes "gang aft agley." One day I received a letter, evidently written in great consternation, from an elderly spinster of singularly aristocratic connections and an irreproachableness of life which was almost painful. The name sent to her by one of our skippers as a correspondent who needed help and encouragement was one of those which would be characterized as common—let us say John Jones. By some perverse fate the wrong ship was given as an address, and the skipper of it happened to have exactly the same name. It appeared that lack of experience in just such work had made her letter possibly more affectionate than she would have wished for under the circumstances which developed. For in writing to me she enclosed a ferocious letter from a lady of Billingsgate threatening, not death, but mutilation, if she continued making overtures to "her John."
NORTH SEA WORK
I have dwelt at length upon the experiences of the North Sea, because trivial as they appear on the surface, they concern the biggest problem of human life—the belief that man is not of the earth, but only a temporary sojourner upon it. This belief, that he is destined to go on living elsewhere, makes a vast difference to one's estimate of values. Life becomes a school instead of a mere stage, the object of which is that our capacities for usefulness should develop through using them until we reach graduation. What life gives to us can only be of permanent importance as it develops our souls, thus enabling us to give more back to it, and leaves us better prepared for any opportunities than may lie beyond this world. The most valuable asset for this assumption is love for the people among whom one lives.
The best teachers in life are far from being those who know most, or who think themselves wisest. Show me a schoolmaster who does not love his boys and you show me one who is of no use. Our faith in our sonship of God is immensely strengthened by the puzzling fact that even God cannot force goodness into us, His sons, because we share His nature.
These convictions, anyhow, were the mental assets with which I had to begin work, and no others. A scientific training had impressed upon me that big and little are very relative terms; that one piece of work becomes unexpectedly permanent and big, while that which appears to be great, but is merely diffuse, will be temporary and ineffective. Experience has taught me that one human life has its limits of direct impetus, but that its most lasting value is its indirect influence. The greatest Life ever lived was no smaller for being in a carpenter's shop, and largely spent among a few ignorant fishermen. The Scarabee had a valid apologia pro vita sua in spite of Dr. Holmes. Tolstoy on his farm, Milton without his sight, Bunyan in his prison, Pasteur in his laboratory, all did great things for the world.
There is so much that is manly about the lives of those who follow the sea, so much less artificiality than in many other callings, and with our fishermen so many fewer of what we call loosely "chances in life," that to sympathize with them was easy—and sympathy is a long step toward love. Life at sea also gives time and opportunity for really knowing a man. It breaks down conventional barriers, and indeed almost compels fellowship and thus an intelligent understanding of the difficulties and tragedies of the soul of our neighbour. That rare faculty of imagination which is the inspiration of all great lovers of men is not alone indispensable. Hand in hand with this inevitably goes the vision of one's own opportunity to help and not to hinder others, even though it be through the unattractive medium of the collection box—for that gives satisfaction only in proportion to the sacrifice which we make.
In plain words the field of work offered me was attractive. It seemed to promise me the most remunerative returns for my abilities, or, to put it in another way, it aroused my ambitions sufficiently to make me believe that my special capacities and training could be used to make new men as well as new bodies. Any idea of sacrifice was balanced by the fact that I never cared very much for the frills of life so long as the necessities were forthcoming.
The attention that Harold Begbie's book "Twice-Born Men" received, was to me later in life a source of surprise. One forgets that the various religions and sects which aimed at the healing of men's souls have concerned themselves more with intellectual creeds than material, Christ-like ends. At first it was not so. Paul rejoiced that he was a new man. There can be no question but that the Gospels show us truly that the change in Christ's first followers was from men, the slaves of every ordinary human passion, into men who were self-mastered—that Christ taught by what he was and did rather than by insistence on creeds and words. It has been seeing these changes in men's lives, not only in their surroundings, though those improve immediately, that reconcile one to our environment, and has induced me to live a life-time in the wilds.
Another movement that was just starting at this time also interested me considerably. A number of keen young men from Oxford and Cambridge, having experienced the dangers that beset boys from big English public schools who enter the universities without any definite help as to their attitude toward the spiritual relationships of life, got together to discuss the question. They recognized that the formation of the Boys' Brigade in our conservative social life only touched the youth of the poorer classes. Like our English Y.M.C.A., it was not then aristocratic enough for gentlemen. They saw, however, that athletic attainments carried great weight, and that all outdoor accomplishments had a strong attraction for boys from every class. Thus it happened that an organization called the Public School Camps came into being. Its ideal was the uplift of character, and the movement has grown with immense strides on both sides of the Atlantic.
An integral part of my summer holidays during these years was spent as medical officer at one of these camps. For many reasons it was wise in England to run them on military lines, for besides the added dignity, it insured the ability to maintain order and discipline. Some well-known commandant was chosen who was a soldier also in the good fight of faith. Special sites were selected, generally on the grounds of some big country seat which were loaned by the interested lord of the manor, and every kind of outdoor attraction was provided which could be secured. Besides organized competitive games, there was usually a yacht, good bathing, always a gymkhana, and numerous expeditions and "hikes." Not a moment was left unoccupied. All of the work of the camp was done by the boys, who served in turn on orderly duty. The officers were always, if possible, prominent athletes, to whom the boys could look up as being capable in physical as well as spiritual fields. There was a brief address each night before "taps" in the big marquee used for mess; and one night was always a straight talk on the problems of sex by the medical officers, whom the boys were advised to consult in their perplexities. These camps were among the happiest memories of my life, and many of the men to-day gratefully acknowledge that the camps were the turning-point of their whole lives. The secret was unconventionality and absolute naturalness with no "shibboleths." The boys were allowed to be boys absolutely in an atmosphere of sincere if not omniscient fervour. On one occasion when breaking up camp, a curly-headed young rascal in my tent, being late on the last morning—unknown to any one—went to the train in his pajamas, hidden only by his raincoat. At a small wayside station over a hundred miles from London, whither he was bound, leaving his coat in the carriage, he ventured into the refreshment stall of the waiting-room. Unfortunately, however, he came out only to find his train departed and himself in his nightclothes on the platform without a penny, a ticket, or a friend. Eluding the authorities he reached the huge Liverpool terminus by night to find a faithful friend waiting on the platform for him with the sorely needed overgarment.
No one was ever ashamed to be a Christian, or of what Christ was, or what he did and stood for. However, to ignore the fact that the mere word "missionary" aroused suspicion in the average English unconventional mind—such as those of these clean, natural-minded boys—would be a great mistake. Unquestionably, as in the case of Dickens, a missionary was unpractical if not hypocritical, and mildly incompetent if not secretly vicious. I found myself always fighting against the idea that I was termed a missionary. The men I loved and admired, especially such men as those on our athletic teams, felt really strongly about it. Henry Martyn—as a scholar—was a hero to those who read of him, though few did. Moreover, who does not love Charles Kingsley? Even as boys, we want to be "a man," though Kingsley was a "Parson Lot." It always seemed that a missionary was naturally discounted until he had proved his right to be received as an ordinary being. Once after being the guest of a bank president, he told me that my stay was followed by that of their bishop, who was a person of great importance. When the bishop had gone, he asked his two boys one day. "Well, which do you like best, the bishop or the doctor?" "Ach," was the reply, "the bishop can't stand on his head." On another occasion during a visit—while lecturing on behalf of the fishermen—and doing my usual evening physical drill in my bedroom, by a great mischance I missed a straight-arm-balance on a chair, fell over, and nearly brought the chandelier of the drawing-room down on the heads of some guests. That a so-called "missionary" should be so worldly as to wish to keep his body fit seemed so unusual that I heard of that trifle a hundred times.
The Church of Christ that is coming will be interested in the forces that make for peace and righteousness in this world rather than in academic theories as to how to get rewards in another. That will be a real stimulus to fitness and capacity all round instead of a dope for failures. It is that element in missions to-day, such as the up-to-date work of the Rockefeller Institute and other medical missions in China and India, which alone holds the respect of the mass of the people. The value of going out merely to make men of different races think as we think is being proportionately discounted with the increase of education.
Our North Sea work grew apace. Vessel after vessel was added to the fleet. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, became interested, and besides subscribing personally toward the first hospital boat, permitted it to be named in her honour. According to custom the builders had a beautiful little model made which Her Majesty agreed to accept. It was decided that it should be presented to her in Buckingham Palace by the two senior mission captains.
The journey to them was a far more serious undertaking than a winter voyage on the Dogger Bank. However, arrayed in smart blue suits and new guernseys and polished to the last degree, they set out on the eventful expedition. On their return every one was as anxious to know "how the voyage had turned out" as if they had been exploring new fishing grounds around the North Cape in the White Sea. "Nothing to complain of, boys, till just as we had her in the wind's eye to shoot the gear," said the senior skipper. "A big swell in knee-breeches opened the door and called out our names, when I was brought up all standing, for I saw that the peak halliard was fast on the port side. The blame thing was too small for me to shift over, so I had to leave it. But, believe me, she never said a word about it. That's what I call something of a lady."
At this time we had begun two new ventures, an institute at Yarmouth for fishermen ashore and a dispensary vessel to be sent out each spring among the thousands of Scotch, Manx, Irish, and French fishermen, who carried on the herring and mackerel fishery off the south and west coast of Ireland.
The south Irish spring fishery is wonderfully interesting. Herring and mackerel are in huge shoals anywhere from five to forty miles off the land, and the vessels run in and out each day bringing back the catch of the night. Each vessel shoots out about two miles of net, while some French ones will shoot out five miles. Thus the aggregate of nets used would with ease stretch from Ireland to New York and back. Yet the undaunted herring return year after year to the disastrous rendezvous. The vessels come from all parts. Many are the large tan-sailed luggers from the Scottish coasts, their sails and hulls marked "B.F." for Banff, "M.E." for Montrose, "C.N." for Campbelltown, etc. With these come the plucky little Ulster boats from Belfast and Larne, Loch Swilly and Loch Foyle; and not a few of the hereditary seafaring men from Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset. Others also come from Falmouth, Penzance, and Exmouth. Besides these are the Irish boats—few enough, alas, for Paddy is not a sailor. A good priest had tried to induce his people to share this rich harvest by starting a fishery school for boys at Baltimore, where net-making and every other branch of the industry was taught. It was to little purpose, for I have met men hungry on the west coast, who were trying to live on potato-raising on that bog land who were graduates of Father D.'s school.
There was one year when we ourselves were trying out the trawling in Clew Bay and Blacksod, and getting marvellous catches; so much so that I remember one small trawler from Grimsby on the east coast of England making two thousand dollars in two days' work, while the Countess of Z. fund was distributing charity to the poverty-stricken men who lived around the bay itself. The Government of Ireland also made serious efforts to make its people take up the fishery business. About one million dollars obtained out of the escheated funds of the Church of England in Ireland, when that organization was disestablished by Mr. Gladstone, was used as a loan fund which was available for fishermen, resident six months, at two per cent interest. They were permitted to purchase their own boat and gear for the fishery out of the money thus provided.
While we lay in Durham Harbour at the entrance to Waterford Harbour, we met many Cornishmen who were temporarily resident there, having come over from Cornwall to qualify for borrowing the money to get boats and outfit. During one week in which we were working from that port, there were so many saints' days on which the Irish crews would not go out fishing, but were having good times on the land, that the skippers, who were Cornishmen, had to form a crew out of their own numbers and take one of their boats to sea.
One day we had landed on the Arran Islands, and I was hunting ferns in the rock crevices, for owing to the warmth of the Gulf current the growth is luxuriant. On the top of the cliffs about three hundred feet high, I fell in with two Irishmen smoking their pipes and sprawling on the edge of the precipice. The water below was very deep and they were fishing. I had the fun of seeing dangling codfish hauled leisurely up all that long distance, and if one fell off on the passage, it was amusing to note the absolute insouciance of the fishermen, who assured me that there were plenty more in the sea.
It has always been a puzzle to me why so few tourists and yachtsmen visit the south and west coast of Ireland. Its marvellous wild, rock scenery, its exquisite bays,—no other words describe them,—its emerald verdure, and its interesting and hospitable people have given me, during the spring fishing seasons that I spent on that coast, some of the happiest memories of my life. On the contrary, most of the yachts hang around the Solent, and the piers of Ryde, Cowes, and Southampton, instead of the magnificent coast from Queenstown to Donegal Cliffs, and from there all along West Scotland to the Hebrides.
About this time our work established a dispensary and social centre at Crookhaven, just inside the Fastnet Lighthouse, and another in Tralee on the Kerry coast, north of Cape Clear. Gatherings for worship and singing were also held on Sundays on the boats, for on that day neither Scotch, Manx, nor English went fishing. The men loved the music, the singing of hymns, and the conversational addresses. Many would take some part in the service, and my memories of those gatherings are still very pleasant ones.
On this wild coast calls for help frequently came from the poor settlers as well as from the seafarers. A summons coming in one day from the Fastnet Light, we rowed out in a small boat to that lovely rock in the Atlantic. A heavy sea, however, making landing impossible, we caught hold of a buoy, anchored off from the rock, and then rowing in almost to the surf, caught a line from the high overhanging crane. A few moments later one was picked out of the tumbling, tossing boat like a winkle out of a shell, by a noose at the end of a line from a crane a hundred and fifty feet above, swung perpendicularly up into the air, and then round and into a trap-door in the side of the lighthouse. On leaving one was swung out again in the same fashion, and dangled over the tumbling boat until caught and pulled in by the oarsmen.
Another day we rowed out nine miles in an Irish craft to visit the Skerry Islands, famous for the old Beehive Monastery, and the countless nests of gannets and other large sea-birds. The cliffs rise to a great height almost precipitously, and the ceaseless thunder of the Atlantic swell jealously guards any landing. There being no davit or crane, we had just to fling ourselves into the sea, and climb up as best we could, carrying a line to haul up our clothing from the boat and other apparatus after landing, while the oarsmen kept her outside the surf. To hold on to the slippery rock we needed but little clothing, anyhow, for it was a slow matter, and the clinging power of one's bare toes was essential. The innumerable gannets sitting on their nests gave the island the appearance of a snowdrift; and we soon had all the eggs that we needed lowered by a line. But some of the gulls, of whose eggs we wanted specimens also, built so cleverly onto the actual faces of the cliffs, that we had to adopt the old plan of hanging over the edge and raising the eggs on the back of one's foot, which is an exploit not devoid of excitement. The chief difficulty was, however, with one of our number, who literally stuck on the top, being unable to descend, at least in a way compatible with comfort or safety. The upshot was that he had to be blindfolded and helped.
One of our Council, being connected at this time with the Irish Poor-Relief Board and greatly interested in the Government efforts to relieve distress in Ireland, arranged that we should make a voyage around the entire island in one of our vessels, trying the trawling grounds everywhere, and also the local markets available for making our catch remunerative. There has been considerable activity in these waters of late years, but it was practically pioneer work in those days, the fishery being almost entirely composed of drift nets and long lines. It was supposed that the water was too deep and the bottom too uneven and rocky to make trawling possible. We had only a sailing vessel of about sixty tons, and the old heavy beam trawl, for the other trawl and steam fishing boats were then quite in their infancy. The quantity and variety of victims that came to our net were prodigious, and the cruise has remained as a dream in my memory, combined as it was with so many chances of helping out one of the most interesting and amiable—if not educated—peoples in the world. It happened to be a year of potato scarcity; as one friend pointed out, there was a surplus of Murphys in the kitchen and a scarcity of Murphys in the cellar—"Murphys" being another name for that vegetable which is so large a factor in Irish economic life. As mentioned before, a fund, called the Countess of Z.'s fund, had been established to relieve the consequent distress, and while we were fishing in Black Sod Bay, the natives around the shore were accepting all that they could secure. Yet one steam trawler cleared four hundred pounds within a week; and our own fine catches, taken in so short a while, made it seem a veritable fishermen's paradise for us, who were accustomed to toil over the long combers and stormy banks of the North Sea. The variety of fish taken alone made the voyage of absorbing interest, numbering cod, haddock, ling, hake, turbot, soles, plaice, halibut, whiting, crayfish, shark, dog-fish, and many quaint monsters unmarketable then, but perfectly edible. Among those taken in was the big angler fish, which lives at the bottom with his enormous mouth open, dangling an attractive-looking bait formed by a long rod growing out from his nose, which lures small victims into the cavern, whence, as he possesses row upon row of spiky teeth which providentially point down his throat, there is seldom any returning.
Among the many memories of that coast which gave me a vision of the land question as it affected the people in those days, one in particular has always remained with me. We had made a big catch in a certain bay, a perfectly beautiful inlet. To see if the local fishermen could find a market within reach of these fishing grounds, with one of the crew, and the fish packed in boxes, we sailed up the inlet to the market town of Bell Mullet. Being Saturday, we found a market day in progress, and buyers, who, encouraged by one of the new Government light railways, were able to purchase our fish. That evening, however, when halfway home, a squall suddenly struck our own lightened boat, which was rigged with one large lugsail, and capsized her. By swimming and manoeuvring the boat, we made land on the low, muddy flats. No house was in sight, and it was not until long after dark that we two shivering masses of mud reached an isolated cabin in the middle of a patch of the redeemed ground right in the centre of a large bog. A miserably clad woman greeted us with a warm Irish welcome. The house had only one room and accommodated the live-stock as well as the family. A fine cow stood in one corner; a donkey tied to the foot of the bed was patiently looking down into the face of the baby. Father was in England harvesting. A couple of pigs lay under the bed, and the floor space was still further encroached upon by a goodly number of chickens, which were encouraged by the warmth of the peat fire. They not only thought it their duty to emphasize our welcome, but—misled by the firelight—were saluting the still far-off dawn. The resultant emotions which we experienced during the night led us to suggest that we might assist toward the erection of a cattle pen. Before leaving, however, we were told, "Shure t' rint would be raised in the fall," if such signs of prosperity as farm buildings greeted the land agent's arrival.
The mouth of Loch Foyle, one of the most beautiful bays in Ireland, gave us a fine return in fish. Especially I remember the magnificent turbot which we took off the wild shore between the frowning basalt cliffs of the Giant's Causeway, and the rough headlands of Loch Swilly. We sold our fish in the historic town of Londonderry, where we saw the old gun Mons Meg, which once so successfully roared for King William, still in its place on the old battlements. By a packet steamer plying to Glasgow, we despatched some of the catch to that greedy market. At Loch Foyle there is a good expanse of sandy and mud bottom which nurses quite a harvest of the sea, though—oddly enough—close by off Rathlin Island is the only water over one hundred fathoms deep until the Atlantic Basin is reached. The Irish Sea like the North Sea is all shallow water. Crossing to the Isle of Man, we delayed there only a short while, for those grounds are well known to the Fleetwood trawlers, who supply so much fish to the dense population of North Central England. We found little opportunity of trawling off the west of Scotland, the ocean's bottom being in no way suited to it. On reaching the Western Hebrides, however, we were once more among many old friends. From Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis alone some nine hundred drifters were pursuing the retreating armies of herring.
The German hordes have taught us to think of life in large numbers, but were the herring to elect a Kaiser, he would dominate in reality an absolutely indestructible host. For hundreds of years fishermen of all countries have without cessation been pursuing these friends of mankind. For centuries these inexhaustible hordes have followed their long pathways of the sea, swimming by some strange instinct always more or less over the same courses—ever with their tireless enemies, both in and out of the water, hot foot on their tracks. Sharks, dog-fish, wolf-fish, cod, and every fish large enough to swallow them, gulls, divers, auks, and almost every bird of the air, to say nothing of the nets set now from steam-propelled ships, might well threaten their speedy extermination. This is especially true when we remember that even their eggs are preyed upon in almost incalculable bulk as soon as they are deposited. But phoenix-like they continue to reappear in such vast quantities that they are still the cheapest food on the market. Such huge numbers are caught at one time that they have now and again to be used for fertilizer, or dumped overboard into the sea. The great bay of Stornaway Harbour was so deeply covered in oil from the fish while we lay there, that the sailing boats raced to and fro before fine breezes and yet the wind could not even ripple the surface of the sea, as if at last millennial conditions had materialized. Many times we saw nets which had caught such quantities of fish at once that they had sunk to the bottom. They were only rescued with great difficulty, and then the fish were so swollen by being drowned in the net that it took hours of hard work and delay to shake their now distended bodies out again.
The opportunities for both holding simple religious services and rendering medical help from our dispensary were numerous, and we thought sufficiently needed to call for some sort of permanent effort; so later the Society established a small mission room in the harbour.
Alcohol has always been a menace to Scotch life, though their fishermen were singularly free from rioting and drunkenness. Indeed, their home-born piety was continually a protest to the indulgence of the mixed crowd which at that time followed King Henry. Scores of times have I seen a humble crew of poor fishermen, who themselves owned their small craft, observing the Sunday as if they were in their homes, while the skippers of large vessels belonging to others fished all the week round at the beck of their absent owners, thinking they made more money in that way.
In 1891 the present Lord Southborough, then Mr. Francis Hopwood, and a member of the Mission Board, returned from a visit to Canada and Newfoundland. He brought before the Council the opportunities for service among the fishermen of the northwest Atlantic, and the suggestion was handed on to me in the form of a query. Would I consider crossing the Atlantic in one of our small sailing vessels, and make an inquiry into the problem?
Some of my older friends have thought that my decision to go was made under strong religious excitement, and in response to some deep-seated conviction that material sacrifices or physical discomforts commended one to God. I must, however, disclaim all such lofty motives. I have always believed that the Good Samaritan went across the road to the wounded man just because he wanted to. I do not believe that he felt any sacrifice or fear in the matter. If he did, I know very well that I did not. On the contrary, there is everything about such a venture to attract my type of mind, and making preparations for the long voyage was an unmitigated delight.
The boat which I selected was ketch-rigged—much like a yawl, but more comfortable for lying-to in heavy weather, the sail area being more evenly distributed. Her freeboard being only three feet, we replaced her wooden hatches, which were too large for handling patients, by iron ones; and also sheathed her forward along the water-line with greenheart to protect her planking in ice. For running in high seas we put a large square sail forward, tripping the yard along the foremast, much like a spinnaker boom. Having a screw steering gear which took two men to handle quickly enough when she yawed and threatened to jibe in a big swell, it proved very useful.
It was not until the spring of 1892 that we were ready to start. We had secured a master with a certificate, for though I was myself a master mariner, and my mate had been in charge of our vessel in the North Sea for many years, we had neither of us been across the Atlantic before. The skipper was a Cornishman, Trevize by name, and a martinet on discipline—an entirely new experience to a crew of North Sea fishermen. He was so particular about everything being just so that quite a few days were lost in starting, though well spent as far as preparedness went. Nothing was wanting when at last, in the second week of June, the tugboat let us go, and crowds of friends waved us good-bye from the pier-head as we passed out with our bunting standing. We had not intended to touch land again until it should rise out of the western horizon, but off the south coast of Ireland we met with heavy seas and head winds, so we ran into Crookhaven to visit our colleagues who worked at that station. Our old patients in that lonely corner were almost as interested as ourselves in the new venture, and many were the good eggs and "meals of greens" which they brought down to the ship as parting tokens. Indeed, we shrewdly guessed that our "dry" principles alone robbed us of more than "one drop o' potheen" whose birth the light of the moon had witnessed.
As we were not fortunate in encountering fair winds, it was not until the twelfth day that we saw our first iceberg, almost running into it in a heavy fog. The fall in the temperature of the sea surface had warned us that we were in the cold current, and three or four days of dense fog emphasized the fact. As it was midsummer, we felt the change keenly, when suddenly on the seventeenth day the fog lifted, and a high evergreen-crowned coast-line greeted our delighted eyes. A lofty lighthouse on a rocky headland enabled us almost immediately to discover our exact position. We were just a little north of St. John's Harbour, which, being my first landfall across the Atlantic, impressed me as a really marvellous feat; but what was our surprise as we approached the high cliffs which guard the entrance to see dense columns of smoke arising, and to feel the offshore wind grow hotter and hotter as the pilot tug towed us between the headlands. For the third time in its history the city of St. John's was in flames.
The heat was fierce when we at last anchored, and had the height of the blaze not passed, we should certainly have been glad to seek again the cool of our icy friends outside. Some ships had even been burned at their anchors. We could count thirteen fiercely raging fires in various parts of the city, which looked like one vast funeral pyre. Only the brick chimneys of the houses remained standing blackened and charred. Smoke and occasional flame would burst out here and there as the fickle eddies of wind, influenced, no doubt, by the heat, whirled around as if in sport over the scene of man's discomfitures. On the hillside stood a solitary house almost untouched, which, had there been any reason for its being held sacred, might well have served as a demonstration of Heaven's special intervention in its behalf. As it was, it seemed to mock the still smouldering wreck of the beautiful stone cathedral just beside it. Among the ruins in this valley of desolation little groups of men darted hither and thither, resembling from the harbour nothing so much as tiny black imps gloating over a congenial environment. I hope never again to see the sight that might well have suggested Gehenna to a less active imagination than Dante's.
Huts had been erected in open places to shelter the homeless; long queues of hungry human beings defiled before temporary booths which served out soup and other rations. Every nook and corner of house-room left was crowded to overflowing with derelict persons and their belongings. The roads to the country, like those now in the environs of the towns in northern France, were dotted with exiles and belated vehicles, hauling in every direction the remnants of household goods. The feeling as of a rudely disturbed antheap dominated one's mind, and yet, in spite of it all, the hospitality and welcome which we as strangers received was as wonderful as if we had been a relief ship laden with supplies to replace the immense amount destroyed in the ships and stores of the city. Moreover, the cheerfulness of the town was amazing. Scarcely a "peep" or "squeal" did we hear, and not a single diatribe against the authorities. Every one had suffered together. Nor was it due to any one's fault. True, the town water-supply had been temporarily out of commission, some stranger was said to have been smoking in the hay loft, Providence had not specially intervened to save property, and hence this result. Thus to our relief it was a city of hope, not of despair, and to our amazement they were able to show most kindly interest in problems such as ours which seemed so remote at the moment. None of us will ever forget their kindness, from the Governor Sir Terence O'Brien, and the Prime Minister, Sir William Whiteway, to the humblest stevedore on the wharves.
I had expected to spend the greater part of our time cruising among the fishing schooners out of sight of land on the big Banks as we did in the North Sea; but I was advised that owing to fog and isolation, each vessel working separately and bringing its own catch to market, it would be a much more profitable outlay of time, if we were to follow the large fleet of over one hundred schooners, with some thirty thousand fishermen, women, and children which had just sailed North for summer work along the coast of Labrador. To better aid us the Government provided a pilot free of expense, and their splendid Superintendent of Fisheries, Mr. Adolph Nielsen, also accepted the invitation to accompany us, to make our experiment more exhaustive and valuable by a special scientific inquiry into the habits and manner of the fish as well as of the fishermen. Naturally a good deal of delay had occurred owing to the unusual congestion of business which needed immediate attention and the unfortunate temporary lack of facilities; but we got under way at last, and sailing "down North" some four hundred miles and well outside the land, eventually ran in on a parallel and made the Labrador coast on the 4th of August.
The exhilarating memory of that day is one which will die only when we do. A glorious sun shone over an oily ocean of cerulean blue, over a hundred towering icebergs of every fantastic shape, and flashing all of the colours of the rainbow from their gleaming pinnacles as they rolled on the long and lazy swell. Birds familiar and strange left the dense shoals of rippling fish, over which great flocks were hovering and quarrelling in noisy enjoyment, to wave us welcome as they swept in joyous circles overhead.
THE LURE OF THE LABRADOR
Twenty years have passed away since that day, and a thousand more important affairs which have occurred in the meantime have faded from my memory; but still its events stand out clear and sharp. The large and lofty island, its top covered with green verdure, so wonderful a landmark from the sea, its peaks capped with the fleecy mist of early morning, rose in a setting of the purest azure blue. For the first time I saw the faces of its ruddy cliffs, their ledges picked out with the homes of myriad birds. Its feet were bathed in the dark, rich green of the Atlantic water, edged by the line of pure white breakers, where the gigantic swell lazily hurled immeasurable mountains of water against its titanic bastions, evoking peals of sound like thunder from its cavernous recesses—a very riot of magnificence. The great schools of whales, noisily slapping the calm surface of the sea with their huge tails as in an abandon of joy, dived and rose, and at times threw the whole of their mighty carcasses right out of water for a bath in the glorious morning sunshine. The shoals of fish everywhere breaching the water, and the silver streaks which flashed beneath our bows as we lazed along, suggested that the whole vast ocean was too small to hold its riches.
When we realized that practically no man had ever lived there, and few had even seen it, it seemed to overwhelm us, coming as we did from the crowded Island of our birth, where notices not to trespass haunted even the dreams of the average man.
A serried rank of range upon range of hills, reaching north and south as far as the eye could see from the masthead, was rising above our horizon behind a very surfeit of islands, bewildering the minds of men accustomed to our English and North Sea coast-lines.
In a ship just the size of the famous Matthew, we had gone west, following almost the exact footsteps of the great John Cabot when just four hundred years before he had fared forth on his famous venture of discovery. We seemed now almost able to share the exhilaration which only such experiences can afford the human soul, and the vast potential resources for the blessing of humanity of this great land still practically untouched.
At last we came to anchor among many schooners in a wonderful natural harbour called Domino Run, so named because the Northern fleets all pass through it on their way North and South. Had we been painted scarlet, and flown the Black Jack instead of the Red Ensign, we could not have attracted more attention. Flags of greeting were run up to all mastheads, and boats from all sides were soon aboard inquiring into the strange phenomenon. Our object explained, we soon had calls for a doctor, and it has been the experience of almost every visitor to the coast from that day to this that he is expected to have a knowledge of medicine.
One impression made on my mind that day undoubtedly influenced all my subsequent actions. Late in the evening, when the rush of visitors was largely over, I noticed a miserable bunch of boards, serving as a boat, with only a dab of tar along its seams, lying motionless a little way from us. In it, sitting silent, was a half-clad, brown-haired, brown-faced figure. After long hesitation, during which time I had been watching him from the rail, he suddenly asked:
"Be you a real doctor?"
"That's what I call myself," I replied.
"Us hasn't got no money," he fenced, "but there's a very sick man ashore, if so be you'd come and see him."
A little later he led me to a tiny sod-covered hovel, compared with which the Irish cabins were palaces. It had one window of odd fragments of glass. The floor was of pebbles from the beach; the earth walls were damp and chilly. There were half a dozen rude wooden bunks built in tiers around the single room, and a group of some six neglected children, frightened by our arrival, were huddled together in one corner. A very sick man was coughing his soul out in the darkness of a lower bunk, while a pitiably covered woman gave him cold water to sip out of a spoon. There was no furniture except a small stove with an iron pipe leading through a hole in the roof.
My heart sank as I thought of the little I could do for the sufferer in such surroundings. He had pneumonia, a high fever, and was probably tubercular. The thought of our attractive little hospital on board at once rose to my mind; but how could one sail away with this husband and father, probably never to bring him back. Advice, medicine, a few packages of food were only temporizing. The poor mother could never nurse him and tend the family. Furthermore, their earning season, "while the fish were in," was slipping away. To pray for the man, and with the family, was easy, but scarcely satisfying. A hospital and a trained nurse was the only chance for this bread-winner—and neither was available.
I called in a couple of months later as we came South before the approach of winter. Snow was already on the ground. The man was dead and buried; there was no provision whatever for the family, who were destitute, except for the hollow mockery of a widow's grant of twenty dollars a year. This, moreover, had to be taken up in goods at a truck store, less debts if she owed any.
Among the nine hundred patients that still show on the records of that long-ago voyage, some stand out more than others for their peculiar pathos and their utter helplessness. I shall never forget one poor Eskimo. In firing a cannon to salute the arrival of the Moravian Mission ship, the gun exploded prematurely, blowing off both the man's arms below the elbows. He had been lying on his back for a fortnight, the pathetic stumps covered only with far from sterile rags dipped in cold water. We remained some days, and did all we could for his benefit; but he too joined the great host that is forever "going west," for want of what the world fails to give them.
It is not given to every member of our profession to enjoy the knowledge that he alone stands between the helpless and suffering or death, for in civilization modern amenities have almost annihilated space and time, and the sensations of the Yankee at the Court of King Arthur are destroyed by the realization of competitors, "just as good," even if it often does leave one conscious of limitations. The successful removal of a molar which has given torture for weeks in a dentistless country, gains one as much gratitude as the amputation of a limb. One mere boy came to me with necrosis of one side of his lower jaw due to nothing but neglected toothache. It had to be dug out from the new covering of bone which had grown up all around it. The whimsical expression of his lop-sided face still haunts me.
Deformities went untreated. The crippled and blind halted through life, victims of what "the blessed Lord saw best for them." The torture of an ingrowing toe-nail, which could be relieved in a few minutes, had incapacitated one poor father for years. Tuberculosis and rickets carried on their evil work unchecked. Preventable poverty was the efficient handmaid of these two latter diseases.
There was also much social work to be done in connection with the medical. Education in every one of its branches—especially public health—was almost nonexistent—as were many simple social amenities which might have been so easily induced.
At one village a woman with five children asked us if we could marry her to her husband. They had never been together when a parson happened along, and they now lived in a lonely cove three miles away. This seemed a genuine case of distress; and as it happened a parson was taking a passage with us, we sent two of our crew over in a boat to round up the groom. Apparently he was not at all anxious, but being a very small man and she a large woman, he discreetly acquiesced. The wedding was held on board our ship, every one entering into the spirit of the unusual occasion. The main hold was crammed with guests, bells were rung and flags flown, guns fired, and at night distress rockets were sent up. We kept in touch with the happy couple for years, till once more they moved away to try their luck elsewhere.
Obviously the coast offered us work that would not be done unless we did it. Here was real need along any line on which one could labour, in a section of our own Empire, where the people embodied all our best sea traditions. They exhibited many of the attractive characteristics which, even when buried beneath habits and customs the outcome of their environment, always endear men of the sea to the genuine Anglo-Saxon. They were uncomplaining, optimistic, splendidly resourceful, cheerful and generous—and after all in one sense soap and water only makes the outside of the platter clean.
I confess that we had greatly enjoyed the adventure qua adventure. Mysterious fjords which wound out of sight into the fastnesses of unknown mountains, and which were entirely uncharted, fairly shouted an invitation to enter and discover what was round the next corner. Islands by the hundred, hitherto never placed on any map, challenged one's hydrographic skill. Families of strange birds, which came swinging seaward as the season advanced, suggested a virgin field for hunting. Berries and flowering plants, as excellent as they were unfamiliar, appealed for exploration. Great boulders perched on perilous peaks, torn and twisted strata, with here and there raised beaches, and great outcrops of black trap-rock piercing through red granite cliffs in giant vertical seams—all piqued one's curiosity to know the geology of this unknown land. Some stone arrow-heads and knives, brought to me by a fisherman, together with the memories that the Norse Vikings and their competitors on the scroll of discovery made their first landfall on this the nearest section of the American coast to Europe, excited one's curiosity to know more of these shores. The dense growth of evergreen trees abounding in every river valley, and the exquisite streams with trout and salmon and seals attracted one whose familiarity with sport and forests was inseparably connected with notices to trespassers.
It only wanted an adventure such as we had one day while sailing up a fjord on a prosaic professional call, when we upset our cutter and had to camp for the night, to give spice to our other experiences, and made us wish to return another year, better equipped, and with a more competent staff.
I am far from being the only person from the outside world who has experienced what Wallace describes as "the Lure of the Labrador." It was a genuine surprise to me one morning to find ice on deck—a scale of sparkling crystals most beautifully picking out the water-line of our little craft. It was only then that I realized that October had come. The days, so full of incident, had passed away like ships in the night. Whither away was the question? We could not stay even though we felt the urgent call to remain. So "Heigho for the southward bar" and a visit to St. John's to try and arouse interest in the new-discovered problems, before we should once more let go our stern lines and be bowling homeward before the fall nor'westers to dear old England.
Home-going craft had generously carried our story before us to the city of St. John's. The Board of Trade commended our effort. The papers had written of the new phenomenon; the politicians had not refrained from commendation. His Excellency the Governor made our path plain by calling a meeting in Government House, where the following resolution was passed:
"That this meeting, representing the principal merchants and traders carrying on the fisheries, especially on the Labrador coast, and others interested in the welfare of this colony, desires to tender its warmest thanks to the directors of the Deep-Sea Mission for sending their hospital ship Albert to visit the settlement on the Labrador coast.
"Much of our fishing industry is carried on in regions beyond the ordinary reach of medical aid, or of charity, and it is with the deepest sense of gratitude that this meeting learns of the amount of medical and surgical work done....
"This meeting also desires to express the hope that the directors may see their way to continue the work thus begun, and should they do so, they may be assured of the earnest cooperation of all classes of this community."
When at last we said good-bye on our homeward voyage, our cabins were loaded with generous souvenirs for the journey, and no king on his throne was happier than every man of the crew of the good ship Albert.
Our report to the Council in London, followed by the resolution sent by the Newfoundland Committee, induced the Society to repeat the experiment on a larger scale the following spring. Thus, with two young doctors, Elliott Curwen of Cambridge and Arthur Bobardt from Australia, and two nurses, Miss Cawardine and Miss Williams, we again set out the following June.
The voyage was uneventful except that I was nearly left behind in mid-Atlantic. While playing cricket on deck our last ball went over the side, and I after it, shouting to the helmsman to tack back. This he did, but I failed to cut him off the first time, as he got a bit rattled. However, we rescued the ball.
We had chosen two islands two hundred miles apart for cottage hospitals, one at Battle Harbour, on the north side of the entrance of the St. Lawrence (Straits of Belle Isle), and the other at Indian Harbour, out in the Atlantic at the mouth of the great Hamilton Inlet. Both places were the centres of large fisheries, and were the "bring-ups" for numberless schooners of the Labrador fleet on their way North and South. The first, a building already half finished, was donated by a local fishery firm by the name of Baine, Johnston and Company. This was quickly made habitable, and patients were admitted under Dr. Bobardt's care. The second building, assembled at St. John's, was shipped by the donors, who were the owners of the Indian Harbour fishery, Job Brothers and Company. Owing to difficulties in landing, this building was not completed and ready for use until the following year, so Dr. Curwen took charge of the hospital ship Albert, and I cruised as far north as Okkak (lat. 57 deg.) in the Princess May, a midget steam launch, eight feet wide, with a cook and an engineer. As there was no coal obtainable in the North, we used wood, and her fire-box being small the amount of cutting entailed left a permanent impression on our biceps.
A friend from Ireland had presented this little boat, which I found lying up on the Chester Race-Course, near our home on the Sands of Dee. We had repaired her and steamed her through the canal into the Mersey, where, somewhat to our humiliation, she had been slung up onto the deck of an Allan liner for her trans-Atlantic passage, as if she were nothing but an extra hand satchel. Nor was our pride restored when on her arrival it was found that her funnel was missing among the general baggage in the hold. We had to wait in St. John's for a new one before starting on our trip North. The close of the voyage proved a fitting corollary. In crossing the Straits of Belle Isle, the last boat to leave the Labrador, we ran short of fuel, and had to burn our cabin-top to make the French shore, having also lost our compass overboard. Here we delayed repairing and refitting so long that the authorities in St. John's became alarmed and despatched their mail steamer in search of us. I still remember my astonishment, when, on boarding the steamer, the lively skipper, a very tender-hearted father of a family, threw both arms around me with a mighty hug and exclaimed, "Thank God, we all thought you were gone. A schooner picked up your flagpole at sea." Poor fellow, he was a fine Christian seaman, but only a year or two later he perished with his large steamer while I still rove this rugged coast.
That summer we visited the stations of the Moravian Brethren, who were kindness personified to us. Their stations, five in number, dated back over a hundred and thirty years, yet they had never had a doctor among them. It would scarcely be modest for me to protest that they were the worse off for that circumstance. Each station was well armed with homoeopathic pills, and at least those do no harm; while one old German house-father had really performed with complete success craniotomy and delivery of a child en morcellement, in the case of a colleague's wife. During our stay they gave us plenty of work among their Eskimos, and were good enough to report most favourably of our work to their home Committee.
As there was no chart of any use for the coast north of Hopedale, few if any corrections having been made in the topographic efforts of the long late Captain Cook, of around-the-world reputation, one of the Brethren, Mr. Christopher Schmidt, joined the Princess May to help me find their northern stations among the plethora of islands which fringe the coast in that vicinity. Never in my life had I expected any journey half so wonderful. We travelled through endless calm fjords, runs, tickles, bays, and straits without ever seeing the open sea, and with hardly a ripple on the surface. We passed high mountains and lofty cliffs, crossed the mouths of large rivers, left groves of spruce and fir and larches on both sides of us, and saw endless birds, among them the Canada goose, eider duck, surf scoters, and many commoner sea-fowl. As it was both impossible and dangerous to proceed after dark, when no longer able to run we would go ashore and gather specimens of the abundant and beautiful sub-arctic flora, and occasionally capture a bird or a dish of trout to help out our diminutive larder.
Among the Eskimos I found a great deal of tuberculosis and much eye trouble. Around the Moravian Mission stations wooden houses had largely replaced the former "tubiks," or skin tents, which were moved as occasion required and so provided for sanitation. These wooden huts were undrained, dark and dirty to a remarkable degree. No water supply was provided, and the spaces between the houses were simply indescribable garbage heaps, presided over by innumerable dogs. The average life was very short and infant mortality high. The best for which we could hope in the way of morals among these people was that a natural unmorality was some offset to the existing conditions. The features of the native life which appealed most to us were the universal optimism, the laughing good-nature and contentment, and the Sunday cleanliness of the entire congregation which swarmed into the chapel service, a welcome respite from the perennial dirt of the week days. Moreover, nearly all had been taught to read and write in Eskimo, though there is no literature in that language to read, except such books as have been translated by the Moravian Brethren. At that time a strict policy of teaching no English had been adopted. Words lacking in the language, like "God," "love," etc., were substituted by German words. Nearly every Eskimo counted "ein, zwei, drei." In one of my lectures, on returning to England, I mentioned that as the Eskimos had never seen a lamb or a sheep either alive or in a picture, the Moravians, in order to offer them an intelligible and appealing simile, had most wisely substituted the kotik, or white seal, for the phrase "the Lamb of God." One old lady in my audience must have felt that the good Brethren were tampering unjustifiably with Holy Writ, for the following summer, from the barrels of clothing sent out to the Labrador, was extracted a dirty, distorted, and much-mangled and wholly sorry-looking woolly toy lamb. Its raison d'etre was a mystery until we read the legend carefully pinned to one dislocated leg, "Sent in order that the heathen may know better."
Their love for music and ability to do part-playing and singing also greatly impressed us, and we spent many evenings enjoying their brass bands and their Easter and Christmas carols. We made some records of these on our Edison phonograph, and they were overpowered with joy when they heard their own voices coming back to them from the machine. The magic lantern also proved exceedingly popular, and several tried to touch the pictures and see if they could not hold them. We were also able to show some hastily made lantern slides of themselves, and I shall never forget their joyful excitement. The following season, in giving them some lantern views, we chanced to show a slide of an old Eskimo woman who had died during the winter. The subsequent commotion caused among the "little people" was unintelligible to us until one of the Moravian Brethren explained that they thought her spirit had taken visible form and returned to her own haunts.
I happened to be in the gardens at Nain when a northerly air made it feel chilly and the thermometer stood only a little above freezing. A troop of Eskimo women came out to cover up the potatoes. Every row of potatoes is covered with arched sticks and long strips of canvas along them. A huge roll of sacking is kept near each row and the whole is drawn over and the potatoes are tucked in bed for the night. I could not resist the temptation to lift the bedclothes and shake hands and say good-night to one of the nearest plants, whereat the merry little people went off into convulsions of laughter.
At Hopedale there was a large Danish ship with over six hundred tons of cargo for the new Moravian buildings. The Brethren do not build as we are doing from coast material. In order to save time and also to have more substantial buildings, they are cut out and built in Germany, photographed, and each piece marked. Then they are taken to pieces, shipped, and sent out here for erection.
Some years ago in Germany, when the Socialists were wearing beards and mustaches, all respectable people used to shave. Therefore the missionaries being Germans insisted on the Eskimos shaving as they did. The result is that at one store at least a stock of ancient razors are left on hand, for now neither missionary nor Eskimo shaves in the inhospitable climate of this country. A small stock of these razors was, therefore, left on my account in some graves from which one or two Eskimos were good enough to go and get us a few ancient stone implements. It is a marvellous thing how superstition still clings around the very best of native Christian communities.
The Moravian Mission is a trading mission. This trading policy in some aspects is in its favour. It is unquestionably part of a message of real love to a brother to put within his reach at reasonable rates those adjuncts of civilized life that help to make less onerous his hard lot. Trade, however, is always a difficult form of charity, and the barter system, common to this coast, being in vogue at the Moravian Mission stations also, practically every Eskimo was in debt to them. In reality this caused a vicious circle, for it encouraged directly the outstanding fault of the Eskimo, his readiness to leave the morrow to care for itself so long as he does not starve to-day. Like a race of children, they need the stimulus of necessity to make them get out and do their best while the opportunity exists. In the past twenty-six years I have made many voyages to one and another of the stations of the Brethren, and have learned to love them all very sincerely as individuals, though their mission policies are their own and not mine.
I remember once in Nain the slob ice had already made ballicaters and the biting cold of winter so far north had set in with all its vigour. There was a heavy sea and a gale of wind. One of two boats which had been out all day had not come in. The sea was so rough and the wind so strong that the occupants of the first boat could not face it, and so had run in under the land and walked all the way round, towing their boat by a long line from the shore. Night came on and the second boat had not appeared. Next morning the Nain folk knew that some accident must have happened. Some men reported that the evening before they had seen through a glass the boat trying to beat against the storm, and then disappear. The Eskimos gathered together to see what could be done and then decided that it was kismet—and went their way. The following evening a tiny light was seen on the far shore of the bay—some one must be alive there. There was no food or shelter there, and it was obvious that help was needed. The gale was still blowing in fury and the sea was as rough as ever, and Eskimos and missionaries decided that in their unseaworthy boats they could do nothing. There was one dissentient voice—Brother Schmidt; and he went and rescued them. One was nearly spent. When their boat had capsized, one man, a woman, and a lad had been drowned, but two men had succeeded in getting into their kajaks and floated off when the disaster happened.
With October came the necessity for returning South, and the long dark nights spent at the little fishing stations as we journeyed from place to place proved all too short. The gatherings for lantern meetings, for simple services, for spinning yarns, together with medicine and such surgery as we could accomplish under the circumstances, made every moment busy and enjoyable. One outstanding feature, however, everywhere impressed an Englishman—the absolute necessity for some standard medium of exchange. Till one has seen the truck system at work, its evil effects in enslaving and demoralizing the poor are impossible to realize.
All the length and breadth of the coast, the poorer people would show me their "settling up" as they called their account, though many never got as far as having any "settling up" given them—so they lived and died in debt to their merchant. They never knew the independence of a dollar in their pockets and the consequent incentive and value of thrift.
It was incredible to me that even large concerns like the Hudson Bay Company would not pay in cash for valuable furs, and that so many dealers in the necessities of life should be still able to hold free men in economic bondage. It seemed a veritable chapter from "Through the Looking Glass," to hear the "grocer" and "haberdasher" talking of "my people," meaning their patrons, and holding over them the whip of refusal to sell them necessities in their hour of need if at any time they dealt with outsiders, however much to their advantage such a course might be.
This fact was first impressed upon me in an odd way. Early in the summer an Eskimo had come aboard the hospital ship with a bear skin and a few other furs to sell. We had not only been delighted with the chance to buy them, but had spread them all around the cabin and taken a picture of him in the middle. Later in the season, while showing my photograph album to a trader, he had suddenly remarked, "Why, what's —— doing here?"
"Selling me some beautiful furs," I replied.
"Oh! was he?" said the man. "I'll make him sing for selling the furs for which I supplied him."
It was no salve to his fretfulness when I assured him that I had paid in good English gold, and that his "dealer" would be as honest with the money as the system had made him. But the trader knew that the truck system creates slippery, tricky men; and the fisherman openly declares war on the merchant, making the most of his few opportunities to outwit his opponent.
A few years later a man brought a silver fox skin aboard my ship, just such a one as I had been requested by an English lady to secure for her. As fulfilling such a request would involve me in hostilities (which, however, I do not think were useless), I asked the man, who was wretchedly poor, if he owed the skin to the trader.
"I am in debt," he replied, "but they will only allow me eight dollars off my account for this skin, and I want to buy some food."
"Very well," I answered. "If you will promise to go at once and pay eight dollars off your debt, I will give you eight gold sovereigns for this skin."
To this he agreed, and faithfully carried out the agreement—while the English lady scored a bargain, and I a very black mark in the books of my friend the trader.
On another occasion my little steamer had temporarily broken down, and to save time I had journeyed on in the jolly-boat, leaving the cook to steer the vessel after me. I wanted to visit a very poor family, one of whose eight children I had taken to hospital for bone tuberculosis the previous year, and to whom the Mission had made a liberal grant of warm clothing. As the steamer had not come along by night, I had to sleep in the tiny one-roomed shack which served as a home. True, since it stood on the edge of the forest, there was little excuse that it was no larger; but the father, a most excellent, honest, and faithful worker, was obviously discouraged. He had not nearly enough proper food for his family; clothing was even more at a discount; tools with which to work were almost as lacking as in a cave man's dwelling; the whole family was going to pieces from sheer discouragement. The previous winter on the opposite bank of the same river, called Big River, a neighbour had in desperation sent his wife and eldest boy out of the house, killed his young family, and then shot himself.
When night came five of the children huddled together for warmth in one bed, and the parents and balance of the family in the other. I slept on the floor near the door in my sleeping-bag, with my nose glued to the crack to get a breath of God's cold air, in spite of the need for warmth—for not a blanket did the house possess. When I asked, a little hurt, where were the blankets which we had sent last year, the mother somewhat indignantly pointed to various trousers and coats which betrayed their final resting-place, and remarked, "If you'se had five lads all trying to get under one covering to onct, Doctor, you'd soon know what would happen to that blanket."
Early in the morning I made a boiling of cocoa, and took the two elder boys out for a seal hunt while waiting for my steamer. I was just in time to see one boy carefully upset his mug of cocoa, when he thought I was not looking, and replace it with cold spring water. "I 'lows I'se not accustomed to no sweetness" was his simple explanation. It was raw and damp as we rowed into the estuary at sunrise in search of the seals. I was chilly even in a well-lined leather coat. But the two shock-headed boys, clad in ancient cotton shirts, and with what had once been only cotton overall jackets, were as jolly as crickets, and apparently almost unduly warm. The Labrador has taught me one truth, which as a physician I never forget, that is, coddling is the terrible menace of civilization, and "to endure hardness" is the best preparation for a "good soldier." On leaving, I promised to send to those boys, whose contentment and cheerfulness greatly endeared them to me, a dozen good fox traps in order to give them a chance for the coming winter. Such a gift as those old iron rat traps seemed in their eyes! When at last they arrived, and were really their own possessions, no prince could have been prouder than they. The next summer as I steamed North, we called in at D—— B——'s house. The same famine in the land seemed to prevail; the same lack of apparently everything which I should have wanted. But the old infective smile was still presented with an almost religious ceremonial, and my friend produced from his box a real silver fox skin. "I kept it for you'se, Doctor," he said, "though us hadn't ne'er a bit in t' house. I know'd you'd do better 'n we with he."
I promised to try, and on my way called in at some northern islands where my friend, Captain Bartlett, father of the celebrated "Captain Bob" of North Pole fame, carried on a summer trade and fishery. He himself was a great seal and cod fisherman, and a man known for his generous sympathy for others.
"Do your best for me, Captain Will," I asked as I handed over the skin—and on coming South I found a complete winter diet laid out for me to take to D—— B——'s little house. It was a veritable full load for the small carrying capacity of my little craft.
When we arrived at the house on the promontory, however, it was locked up and the family gone. They were off fishing on the outer islands, so all we could do was to break in the door, pile up the things inside, bar it up again, affixing a notice warning off bears, dogs, and all poachers, and advising Dick that it was the price of his pelt. In the note we also told him to put all the fur he caught the following winter in a barrel and "sit on it" till we came along, if he wanted a chance to get ahead. This he did almost literally. We ourselves took his barrel to the nearest cash buyer, and ordered for him goods for cash in St. John's to the full amount realized. The fur brought more than his needs, and he was able to help out neighbours by reselling at cash prices. This he did till the day of his death, when he left me, as his executor, with a couple of hundred good dollars in cash to divide among his children.
It was experiments like this which led me in later years to start the small cooperative distributive stores, in spite of the knowledge of the opposition and criticism it would involve. How can one preach the gospel of love to a hungry people by sermons, or a gospel of healing to underfed children by pills, while one feels that practical teaching in home economics is what one would most wish if in their position? The more broad-minded critics themselves privately acknowledged this to me. One day a Northern furrier, an excellent and more intelligent man than ordinary, came to me as a magistrate to insist that a trading company keep its bargain by paying him in cash for a valuable fox skin. They were trying to compel him to take flour and supplies from them at prices far in excess of those at which he could purchase the goods in St. John's, via the mail steamer.
When asked to act as a justice of the peace for the Colony, I had thought it my duty to accept the responsibility. Already it had led me into a good deal of trouble. But that I should be forced to seize the large store of a company, and threaten an auction of goods for payment, without even a policeman to back me up, had never entered my mind. It was, however, exactly what I now felt called upon to do. To my intense surprise and satisfaction the trader immediately turned round and said: "You are quite right. The money shall be paid at once. The truck system is a mistaken policy, and loses us many customers." It was Saturday night. We had decided to have a service for the fishermen the next day, but had no place in which to gather. Therefore, after we had settled the business I took my pluck in my hands, and said:
"It's Sunday to-morrow. Would you lend us your big room for prayers in the morning?"
"Why, certainly," he replied; and he was present himself and sang as heartily as any man in the meeting. Nor did he lose a good customer on account of his open-mindedness.
THE PEOPLE OF LABRADOR
Since the publication of the book "Labrador, the Country and the People," the means of transportation to the coast have been so improved that each year brings us an increasing number of visitors to enjoy the attractions of this sub-arctic land. So many misconceptions have arisen, however, as to the country and its inhabitants, and one is so often misrepresented as distorting conditions, that it seems wise at this point to try and answer a few questions which are so familiar to us who live on the coast as to appear almost negligible.
The east coast of Labrador belongs to Newfoundland, and is not part of the territory of Canada, although the ill-defined boundary between the two possessions has given rise to many misunderstandings. Newfoundland is an autonomous government, having its own Governor sent out from England, Prime Minister, and Houses of Parliament in the city of St. John's. Instead of being a province of Canada, as is often supposed, and an arrangement which some of us firmly believe would result in the ultimate good of the Newfoundlanders, it stands in the same relationship to England as does the great Dominion herself. Labrador is owned by Newfoundland, so that legally the Labradormen are Newfoundlanders, though they have no representation in the Newfoundland Government. At Blanc Sablon, on the north coast in the Straits of Belle Isle, the Canadian Labrador begins, so far as the coast-line is concerned. The hinterland of the Province of Ungava is also a Canadian possession.
The original natives of the Labrador were Eskimos and bands of roving Indians. The ethnologist would find fruitful opportunities in the country. The Eskimos, one of the most interesting of primitive races, have still a firm foothold in the North—chiefly around the five stations of the Moravian Brethren, upon whose heroic work I need not now dilate. The Montagnais Indians roam the interior. They are a branch of the ancient Algonquin race who held North America as far west as the Rockies. They are the hereditary foes of the Eskimos, whole settlements of whom they have more than once exterminated. Gradually, with the influx of white settlers from Devon and Dorset, from Scotland and France, the "Innuits" were driven farther and farther north, until there are only some fifteen hundred of them remaining to-day. Among them the Moravians have been working for the past hundred and thirty-five years. A few bands of Indians still continue to rove the interior, occasionally coming out to the coast to dispose of their furs, and obtain such meagre supplies as their mode of life requires. The balance of the inhabitants of the country are white men of our own blood and religion—men of the sea and dear to the Anglo-Saxon heart.