During the past years it has been the experience of many of my colleagues, as well as myself, that as soon as one mentions the fact that part of our work is done on the north shore of Newfoundland, one's audience loses interest, and there arises the question: "But Newfoundland is a prosperous island. Why is it necessary to carry on a charitable enterprise there?"
There is a sharp demarcation between main or southern Newfoundland and the long finger of land jutting northward, which at Cape Bauld splits the polar current, so that the shores of the narrow peninsula are continuously bathed in icy waters. The country is swept by biting winds, and often for weeks enveloped in a chilly and dripping blanket of fog. The climate at the north end of the northward-pointing finger is more severe than on the Labrador side of the Straits. Indeed, my friend, Mr. George Ford, for twenty-seven years factor of the Hudson Bay Company at Nakvak, told me that even in the extreme north of Labrador he never really knew what cold was until he underwent the penetrating experience of a winter at St. Anthony. The Lapp reindeer herders whom we brought over from Lapland, a country lying well north of the Arctic Circle, after spending a winter near St. Anthony, told me that they had never felt anything like that kind of cold, and that they really could not put up with it! The climate of the actual Labrador is clear, cold, and still, with a greater proportion of sunshine than the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. As a matter of fact, our station at St. Anthony is farther north and farther east than two of our hospitals on the Labrador side of the Straits of Belle Isle. Along that north side the gardens of the people are so good that their produce affords a valuable addition to the diet—but not so here.
The dominant industry of the whole Colony is its fisheries—the ever-recurrent pursuit of the luckless cod, salmon, herring, halibut, and lobster in summer, and the seal fishery in the month of March. It is increasingly difficult to overestimate the importance, not merely to the British Empire, but to the entire world, of the invaluable food-supply procured by the hardy fishermen of these northern waters. Only the other day the captain of a patrol boat told me that he had just come over from service on the North Sea, and in his opinion it would be years before those waters could again be fished, owing to the immense numbers of still active mines which would render such an attempt disproportionately hazardous. From this point of view, if from no other more disinterested angle, we owe a great and continuous debt to the splendid people of Britain's oldest colony. It was among these white fishermen that I came out to work primarily, the floating population which every summer, some twenty thousand strong, visits the coasts of Labrador; and later including the white resident settlers of the Labrador and North Newfoundland coasts as well.
The conditions prevailing among some of the people at the north end of Newfoundland and of Labrador itself should not be confused with those of their neighbours to the southward. Chronic poverty is, however, very far from being universally prevalent in the northern district. Some of the fishermen lead a comfortable, happy, and prosperous life; but my old diaries, as well as my present observations, furnish all too many instances in which families exist well within the danger-line of poverty, ignorance, and starvation.
The privations which the inhabitants of the French or Treaty shore and of Labrador have had to undergo, and their isolation from so many of the benefits of civilization, have had varying effects on the residents of the coast to-day. While a resourceful and kindly, hardy and hospitable people have been developed, yet one sometimes wonders exactly into what era an inhabitant of say the planet Mars would place our section of the North Country if he were to alight here some crisp morning in one of his unearthly machines. For we are a reactionary people in matters of religion and education; and our very "speech betrays us," belonging as so many of its expressions do to the days when the Pilgrims went up to Canterbury, or a certain Tinker wrote of another and more distant pilgrimage to the City of Zion.
The people are, naturally, Christians of a devout and simple faith. The superstitions still found among them are attributable to the remoteness of the country from the current of the world's thought, the natural tendency of all seafaring people, and the fact that the days when the forbears of these fishermen left "Merrie England" to seek a living by the harvest of the sea, and finally settled on these rocky shores, were those when witches and hobgoblins and charms and amulets were accepted beliefs.
Nevertheless, to-day as a medical man one is startled to see a fox's or wolf's head suspended by a cord from the centre, and to learn that it will always twist the way from which the wind is going to blow. One man had a barometer of this kind hanging from his roof, and explained that the peculiar fact was due to the nature of the animals, which in life always went to windward of others; but if you had a seal's head similarly suspended, it would turn from the wind, owing to the timid character of that creature. Moreover, it surprises one to be assured, on the irrefutable and quite unquestioned authority of "old Aunt Anne Sweetapple," that aged cats always become playful before a gale of wind comes on.
"I never gets sea boils," one old chap told me the other day.
"How is that?" I asked.
"Oh! I always cuts my nails on a Monday, so I never has any."
There is a great belief in fairies on the coast. A man came to me once to cure what he was determined to believe was a balsam on his baby's nose. The birthmark to him resembled that tree. More than one had given currency if not credence to the belief that the reason why the bull's-eye was so hard to hit in one of our running deer rifle matches was that we had previously charmed it. If a woman sees a hare without cutting out and keeping a portion of the dress she is then wearing, her child will be born with a hare-lip.
When stripping a patient for examination, I noticed that he removed from his neck what appeared to be a very large scapular. I asked him what it could be. It was a haddock's fin-bone—a charm against rheumatism. The peculiarity of the fin consists in the fact that the fish must be taken from the water and the fin cut out before the animal touches anything whatever, especially the boat. Any one who has seen a trawl hauled knows how difficult a task this would be, with the jumping, squirming fish to cope with.
Protestant and Catholic alike often sew up bits of paper, with prayers written on them, in little sacks that are worn around the neck as an amulet; and green worsted tied around the wrist is reported to be a never-failing cure for hemorrhage.
Every summer some twenty thousand fishermen travel "down North" in schooners, as soon as ever the ice breaks sufficiently to allow them to get along. They are the "Labrador fishermen," and they come from South Newfoundland, from Nova Scotia, from Gloucester, and even Boston. Some Newfoundlanders take their families down and leave them in summer tilts on the land near the fishing grounds during the season. When fall comes they pick them up again and start for their winter homes "in the South," leaving only a few hundreds of scattered "Liveyeres" in possession of the Labrador.
We were much surprised one day to notice a family moving their house in the middle of the fishing season, especially when we learned that the reason was that a spirit had appropriated their dwelling.
Stephen Leacock would have obtained much valuable data for his essay on "How to Become a Doctor" if he had ever chanced to sail along "the lonely Labrador." In a certain village one is confidently told of a cure for asthma, as simple as it is infallible. It consists merely of taking the tips of all one's finger-nails, carefully allowed to grow long, and cutting them off with sharp scissors. In another section a powder known as "Dragon's Blood" is very generally used as a plaster. It appears quite inert and harmless. A little farther south along the coast is a baby suffering from ophthalmia. The doctor has only been called in because blowing sugar in its eyes has failed to cure it.
A colleague of mine was visiting on his winter rounds in a delightful village some forty miles south of St. Anthony Hospital. The "swiles" (seals) had struck in, and all hands were out on the ice, eager to capture their share of these valuable animals. But snow-blindness had incontinently attacked the men, and had rendered them utterly unable to profit by their good fortune. The doctor's clinic was long and busy that night. The following morning he was, however, amazed to see many of his erstwhile patients wending their way seawards, each with one eye treated on his prescription, but the other (for safety's sake) doctored after the long-accepted methods of the talent of the village—tansy poultices and sugar being the acknowledged favourites. The consensus of opinion obviously was that the stakes were too high for a man to offer up both eyes on the altar of modern medicine.
In the course of many years' practice the methods for the treatment and extraction of offending molars which have come to my attention are numerous, but none can claim a more prompt result than the following: First you attach a stout, fine fish-line firmly to the tooth. Next you lash the other end to the latch of the door—we do not use knobs in this country. You then make the patient stand back till there is a nice tension on the line, when suddenly you make a feint as if to strike him in the eye. Forgetful of the line, he leaps back to avoid the blow. Result, painless extraction of the tooth, which should be found hanging to the latch.
Although there have been clergyman of the Church of England and Methodist denominations on the coast for many years past—devoted and self-sacrificing men who have done most unselfish work—still, their visits must be infrequent. One of them told me in North Newfoundland that once, when he happened to pass through a little village with his dog team on his way South, the man of one house ran out and asked him to come in. "Sorry I have no time," he replied. "Well, just come in at the front door and out at the back, so we can say that a minister has been in the house," the fisherman answered.
Even to-day, to the least fastidious, the conditions of travel leave much to be desired. The coastal steamers are packed far beyond their sleeping or sitting capacity. On the upper deck of the best of these boats I recall that there are two benches, each to accommodate four people. The steamer often carries three hundred in the crowded season of the fall of the year. One retires at night under the misapprehension that the following morning will find these seats still available. On ascending the companionway, however, one's gaze is met by a heterogeneous collection of impedimenta. The benches are buried as irretrievably as if they "had been carried into the midst of the sea." Almost anything may have been piled on them, from bales of hay—among which my wife once sat for two days—to the nucleus of a chicken farm, destined, let us say, for the Rogues' Roost Bight.
As the sturdy little steamer noses her way into some picturesque harbour and blows a lusty warning of her approach, small boats are seen putting off from the shore and rowing or sculling toward her with almost indecorous rapidity. Lean over the rail for a minute with me, and watch the freight being unloaded into one of these bobbing little craft. The hatch of the steamer is opened, a most unmusical winch commences operations—and a sewing machine emerges de profundis. This is swung giddily out over the sea by the crane and dropped on the thwarts of the waiting punt. One shudders to think of the probably fatal shock received by the vertebrae of that machine. One's sympathies, however, are almost immediately enlisted in the interest and fortunes of a young and voiceful pig, which, poised in the blue, unwillingly experiences for the moment the fate of the coffin of the Prophet. Great shouting ensues as a baby is carried down the ship's ladder and deposited in the rocking boat. A bag of beans, of the variety known as "haricot," is the next candidate. A small hole has been torn in a corner of the burlap sack, out of which trickles a white and ominous stream. The last article to join the galaxy is a tub of butter. By a slight mischance the tub has "burst abroad," and the butter, a golden and gleaming mass,—with unexpected consideration having escaped the ministrations of the winch,—is passed from one pair of fishy hands to another, till it finds a resting-place by the side of the now quiescent pig.
We pass out into the open again, bound for the next port of call. If the weather chances to be "dirty," the sufferers from mal-de-mer lie about on every available spot, be it floor or bench, and over these prostrate forms must one jump as one descends to the dining-saloon for lunch. It may be merely due to the special keenness of my professional sense, but the apparent proportion of the halt, lame, and blind who frequent these steamers appears out of all relation to the total population of the coast. Across the table is a man with an enormous white rag swathing his thumb. The woman next him looks out on a blue and altered world from behind a bandaged eye. Beside one sits a young fisherman, tenderly nursing his left lower jaw, his enjoyment of the fact that his appetite is unimpaired by the vagaries of the North Atlantic tempered by an unremitting toothache.
But the cheerful kindliness and capability of the captain, the crew, and the passengers, on whatever boat you may chance to travel, pervades the whole ship like an atmosphere, and makes one forget any slight discomfort in a justifiable pride that as an Anglo-Saxon one can claim kinship to these "Vikings of to-day."
Life is hard in White Bay. An outsider visiting there in the spring of the year would come to the conclusion that if nothing further can be done for these people to make a more generous living, they should be encouraged to go elsewhere. The number of cases of tubercle, anaemia, and dyspepsia, of beri-beri and scurvy, all largely attributable to poverty of diet, is very great; and the relative poverty, even compared with that of the countries which I have been privileged to visit, is piteous. The solution of such a problem does not, however, lie in removing a people from their environment, but in trying to make the environment more fit for human habitation.
The hospitality of the people is unstinted and beautiful. They will turn out of their beds at any time to make a stranger comfortable, and offer him their last crust into the bargain, without ever expecting or asking a penny of recompense. But here, as all the world over, the sublime and the ridiculous go hand in hand. On one of my dog trips the first winter which I spent at St. Anthony, the bench on which I slept was the top of the box used for hens. This would have made little difference to me, but unfortunately it contained a youthful and vigorous rooster, which, mistaking the arrival of so many visitors for some strange herald of morning, proceeded every half-hour to salute it with premature and misdirected zeal, utterly incompatible with unbroken repose just above his head. It was possible, without moving one's limbs much, to reach through the bars and suggest better things to him; but owing to the inequality which exists in most things, one invariably captured a drowsy hen, while the more active offender eluded one with ease. Lighting matches to differentiate species under such exceptional circumstances in the pursuit of knowledge was quite out of the question.
A visit to one house on the French shore I shall not easily forget. The poor lad of sixteen years had hip disease, and lay dying. The indescribable dirt I cannot here picture. The bed, the house, and everything in it were full of vermin, and the poor boy had not been washed since he took to bed three or four months before. With the help of a clergyman who was travelling with me at the time, the lad was chloroformed and washed. We then ordered the bedding to be burned, provided him with fresh garments, and put him into a clean bed. The people's explanation was that he was in too much pain to be touched, and so they could do nothing. We cleansed and drained his wounds and left what we could for him. Had he not been so far gone, we should have taken him to the hospital, but I feared that he would not survive the journey.
Although at the time it often seemed an unnecessary expenditure of effort in an already overcrowded day, one now values the records of the early days of one's life on the coast. In my notebook for 1895 I find the following: "The desolation of Labrador at this time is easy to understand. No Newfoundlanders were left north of us; not a vessel in sight anywhere. The ground was all under snow, and everything caught over with ice except the sea. I think that I must describe one house, for it seems a marvel that any man could live in it all winter, much less women and children. It was ten feet by twenty, one storey high, made of mud and boards, with half a partition to divide bedroom from the sitting-room kitchen. If one adds a small porch filled with dirty, half-starved dogs, and refuse of every kind, an ancient and dilapidated stove in the sitting part of the house, two wooden benches against the walls, a fixed rude table, some shelves nailed to the wall, and two boarded-up beds, one has a fairly accurate description of the furnishings. Inside were fourteen persons, sleeping there, at any rate for a night or two. The ordinary regular family of a man and wife and four girls was to be increased this winter by the man's brother, his wife, and four boys from twelve months to seven years of age. His brother had 'handy enough flour,' but no tea or molasses. The owner was looking after Newfoundland Rooms, for which he got flour, tea, molasses, and firewood for the winter. The people assure me that one man, who was aboard us last fall just as we were going South, starved to death, and many more were just able to hold out till spring. The man, they tell me, ate his only dog as his last resource."
I sent one day a barrel of flour and some molasses to a poor widow with seven children at Stag Islands. She was starving even in summer. She was just eating fish, which she and her eldest girl caught, and drinking water—no flour, no tea, nothing. Two winters before she and her eldest girl sawed up three thousand feet of planking to keep the wolf from the little ones. The girl managed the boat and fished in summer, drove the dogs and komatik and did the shooting for which they could afford powder in winter.
A man, having failed to catch a single salmon beyond what he was forced to eat, left in his little boat to row down to the Inlet to try for codfish. To get a meal—breakfast—and a little flour to sustain life on the way, he had to sell his anchor before he left.
The life of the sea, with all its attractions, is at best a hazardous calling, and it speaks loud in the praise of the capacity and simple faith of our people that in the midst of a trying and often perilous environment, they retain so quiet and kindly a temper of mind. During my voyage to the seal fishery I recall that one day at three o'clock the men were all called in. Four were missing. We did not find them till we had been steaming for an hour and a half. They were caught on pans some mile or so apart in couples, and were in prison. We were a little anxious about them, but the only remark which I heard, when at last they came aboard, was, "Leave the key of your box the next time, Ned."
To those who claim that Labrador is a land of plenty I would offer the following incident in refutation. At Holton on a certain Sunday morning the leader of the church services came aboard the hospital steamer and asked me for a Bible. Some sacrilegious pigs which had been brought down to fatten on the fish, driven to the verge of starvation by the scarcity of that article, had broken into the church illicitly one night, and not only destroyed the cloth, but had actually torn up and eaten the Bible. In reply to inquiry I gave it as my opinion that it would be no sin to eat the pork of the erring quadrupeds.
Once when I was cruising on the North Labrador coast I anchored one day between two desolate islands some distance out in the Atlantic, a locality which in those days was frequented by many fishing craft. My anchors were scarcely down when a boat from a small Welsh brigantine came aboard, and asked me to go at once and see a dying girl. She proved to be the only woman among a host of men, and was servant in one of the tiny summer fishing huts, cooking and mending for the men, and helping with the fish when required. I found her in a rude bunk in a dark corner of the shack. She was almost eighteen, and even by the dim light of my lantern and in contrast with the sordid surroundings, I could see that she was very pretty. A brief examination convinced me that she was dying. The tender-hearted old captain, whose aid had been called in as the only man with a doctor's box and therefore felt to be better qualified to use it than others, was heart-broken. He had pronounced the case to be typhoid, to be dangerous and contagious, and had wisely ordered the fishermen, who were handling food for human consumption, to leave him to deal with the case alone. He told me at once that he had limited his attentions to feeding her, and that though helpless for over a fortnight, and at times unconscious, the patient had not once been washed or the bed changed. The result, even with my experience, appalled me. But while there is life in a young patient there is always hope, and we at once set to work on our Augean task. By the strangest coincidence it was an inky dark night outside, with a low fog hanging over the water, and the big trap boat, with a crew of some six men, among them the skipper's sons, had been missing since morning. The skipper had stayed home out of sympathy for his servant girl, and his mind was torn asunder by the anxiety for the girl and his fear for his boys.
When night fell, the old captain and I were through with the hardest part of our work. We had new bedding on the bed and the patient clean and sleeping quietly. Still the boat and its precious complement did not come. Every few minutes the skipper would go out and listen, and stare into the darkness. The girl's heart suddenly failed, and about midnight her spirit left this world. The captain and I decided that the best thing to do was to burn everything—and in order to avoid publicity to do it at once. So having laboriously carried it all out onto the edge of the cliff, we set a light to the pile and were rewarded with a bonfire which would have made many a Guy Fawkes celebration. Quite unintentionally we were sending out great streams of light into the darkness over the waters away down below us, and actually giving the longed-for signal to the missing boat. Her crew worked their way in the fog to life and safety by means of the blazing and poor discarded "properties" of the soul preceding us to our last port.
Although our work has lain almost entirely among the white population of the Labrador and North Newfoundland coasts, still it has been our privilege occasionally to come in contact with the native races, and to render them such services, medical or otherwise, as lay within our power. Our doctor at Harrington on the Canadian Labrador is appointed by the Canadian Government as Indian Agent.
Once, when my own boat was anchored in Davis Inlet, a band of roving Indians had come to the post for barter and supplies. Our steamer was a source of great interest to them. Our steam whistle they would gladly have purchased, after they had mastered their first fears. At night we showed them some distress rockets and some red and blue port flares. The way those Indians fled from the port flares was really amusing, and no one enjoyed it more than they did, for the shouting and laughter, after they had picked themselves out of the scuppers where they had been rolling on top of one another, wakened the very hills with their echoes. Next morning one lonely-looking brave came on board, and explained to me by signs and grunts that during the entertainment a white counter, or Hudson Bay dollar, had rolled out of the lining of his hat into our woodpile. An elaborate search failed to reveal its whereabouts, but as there was no reason to doubt him, I decided to make up the loss to him out of our clothes-bag. Fortunately a gorgeous purple rowing blazer came readily to hand, and with this and a helmet, both of which he put on at once, the poor fellow was more than satisfied. Indeed, on the wharf he was the envy of the whole band.
At night they slept in the bunkhouse, and they presented a sight which one is not likely to forget—especially one lying on his back on the table, with his arms extended and his head hanging listlessly over the edge. One felt sorely tempted to put a pin into him to see if he really were alive, but we decided to abstain for prudential reasons.
We had among the garments on board three not exactly suited to the white settlers, so I told the agent to let the Indians have a rifle shooting match for them. They were a fox huntsman's red broadcloth tail-coat, with all the glory of gilt buttons, a rather dilapidated red golf blazer, and a white, cavalryman's Eton coat, with silver buttons, and the coat-of-arms on. Words fail me to paint the elation of the winner of the fox hunting coat; while the wearer of the cavalry mess jacket was not the least bit daunted by the fact that when he got it on he could hardly breathe. I must say that he wore it over a deerskin kossak, which is not the custom of cavalrymen, I am led to believe.
The coast-line from Ramah to Cape Chidley is just under one hundred miles, and on it live a few scattered Eskimo hunters. Mr. Ford knew every one of them personally, having lived there twenty-seven years. It appears that a larger race of Eskimos called "Tunits," to whom the present race were slaves, used to be on this section of the coast. At Nakvak there are remains of them. In Hebron, the same year that we met the Indians at Davis Inlet, we saw Pomiuk's mother. Her name is Regina, and she is now married to Valentine, the king of the Eskimos there. I have an excellent photograph of a royal dinner party, a thing which I never possessed before. The king and queen and a solitary courtier are seated on the rocks, gnawing contentedly raw walrus bones—"ivik" they call it.
The Eskimos one year suffered very heavily from an epidemic of influenza—the germ doubtless imported by some schooner from the South. Like all primitive peoples, they had no immunity to the disease, and the suffering and mortality were very high. It was a pathetic sight as the lighter received its load of rude coffins from the wharf, with all the kindly little people gathered to tow them to their last resting-place in the shallow sand at the end of the inlet. The ten coffins in one grave seemed more the sequence of a battle than of a summer sickness in Labrador. Certainly the hospital move on the part of the Moravians deserved every commendation; though I understand that at their little hospital in Okkak they have not always been able to have a qualified medical man in residence.
One old man, a patient on whose hip I had operated, came and insisted that I should examine the scars. Oddly enough during the operation the Eskimo, who was the only available person whom I had been able to find to hold the light, had fainted, and left me in darkness. I had previously had no idea that their sensibilities were so akin to ours.
At Napatuliarasok Island are some lovely specimens of blue and green and golden Labradorite, a striated feldspar with a glorious sheen. Nothing has ever really been done with this from a commercial point of view; moreover, the samples of gold-bearing quartz, of which such good hopes have been entertained, have so far been found wanting also. In my opinion this is merely due to lack of persevering investigation—for one cannot believe that this vast area of land can be utterly unremunerative.
On one of the old maps of Labrador this terse description is written by the cartographer: "Labrador was discovered by the English. There is nothing in it of any value"; and another historian enlarges on the theme in this fashion: "God made the world in five days, made Labrador on the sixth, and spent the seventh throwing stones at it." It is so near and yet so far, so large a section of the British Empire and yet so little known, and so romantic for its wild grandeur, and many fastnesses still untrodden by the foot of man! The polar current steals from the unknown North its ice treasures, and lends them with no niggard hand to this seaboard. There is a never-wearying charm in these countless icebergs, so stately in size and so fantastic in shape and colouring.
The fauna and flora of the country are so varied and exquisite that one wonders why the world of science has so largely passed us by. Perhaps with the advent of hydroplanes, Labrador will come to its own among the countries of the world. Not only the ethnologist and botanist, but the archaeologist as well reaps a rich harvest for his labours here. Many relics of a recent stone age still exist. I have had brought to me stone saucepans, lamps, knives, arrow-heads, etc., taken from old graves. It is the Eskimo custom to entomb with the dead man all and every possession which he might want hereafter, the idea being that the spirit of the implement accompanies the man's spirit. Relics of ancient whaling establishments, possibly early Basque, are found in plenty at one village, while even to-day the trapper there needing a runner for his komatik can always hook up a whale's jaw or rib from the mud of the harbour. Relics of rovers of the sea, who sought shelter on this uncharted coast with its million islands, are still to be found. A friend of mine was one day looking from his boat into the deep, narrow channel in front of his house, when he perceived some strange object in the mud. With help he raised it, and found a long brass "Long Tom" cannon, which now stands on the rocks at that place. Remains of the ancient French occupation should also be procurable near the seat of their deserted capital near Bradore.
My friend, Professor Reginald Daly, head of the Department of Geology at Harvard University, after having spent a summer with me on the coast, wrote as follows:
"We crossed the Straits of Belle Isle once more, homeward bound. Old Jacques Cartier, searching for an Eldorado, found Labrador, and in disgust called it the 'Land of Cain.' A century and a half afterward Lieutenant Roger Curtis wrote of it as a 'country formed of frightful mountains, and unfruitful valleys, a prodigious heap of barren rock'; and George Cartwright, in his gossipy journal, summed up his impressions after five and twenty years on the coast. He said, 'God created this country last of all, and threw together there the refuse of his materials as of no use to mankind.'
"We have learned at last the vital fact that Nature has set apart her own picture galleries where men may resort if for a time they would forget human contrivances. Such a wilderness is Labrador, a kind of mental and moral sanitarium. The beautiful is but the visible splendor of the true. The enjoyment of a visit to the coast may consist not alone in the impressions of the scenery; there may be added the deeper pleasure of reading out the history of noble landscapes, the sculptured monuments of elemental strife and revolutions of distant ages."
LECTURING AND CRUISING
We had now been coming for some two years to the coast, and the problem was assuming larger proportions than I felt the Society at home ought to be called on to finance. It seemed advisable, therefore, to try and raise money in southern Newfoundland and Canada. So under the wing of the most famous seal and fish killer, Captain Samuel Blandford, I next visited and lectured in St. John's, Harbour Grace, and Carbonear.
The towns in Newfoundland are not large. Its sectarian schools and the strong denominational feeling between the churches so greatly divide the people that united efforts for the Kingdom of God were extremely rare before the war. Even now there is no Y.M.C.A. or Y.W.C.A. in the Colony. The Boys' Brigade, which we initiated our first year, divided as it grew in importance, into the Church Lads Brigade, the Catholic Cadet Corps, and the Methodist Guards.
Dr. Bobardt, my young Australian colleague, and I now decided to cross over to Halifax. We had only a certain amount of money for the venture; it was our first visit to Canada, and we knew no one. We carried credentials, however, from the Marquis of Ripon and other reputable persons. If we had had experience as commercial travellers, this would have been child's play. But our education had been in an English school and university; and when finally we sat at breakfast at the Halifax hotel we felt like fish out of water. Such success as we obtained subsequently I attribute entirely to what then seemed to me my colleague's colonial "cheek." He insisted that we should call on the most prominent persons at once, the Prime Minister, the General in charge of the garrison, the Presidents of the Board of Trade and University, the Governor of the Province, and all the leading clergymen. There have been times when I have hesitated about getting my anchors for sea, when the barometer was falling, the wind in, and a fog-bank on the horizon—but now, years after, I still recall my reluctance to face that ordeal. But like most things, the obstacles were largely in one's own mind, and the kindness which we received left me entirely overwhelmed. Friends formed a regular committee to keep a couple of cots going in our hospital, to collect supplies, and sent us to Montreal with introductions and endorsements. Some of these people have since been lifelong helpers of the Labrador Mission.
By the time we reached Montreal, our funds were getting low, but Dr. Bobardt insisted that we must engage the best accommodations, even if it prevented our travelling farther west. The result was that reporters insisted on interviewing him as to the purpose of an Australian coming to Montreal; and I was startled to see a long account which he had jokingly given them published in the morning papers, stating that his purpose was to materialize the All Red Line and arrange closer relations between Australia and Canada. According to his report my object was to inspect my ranch in Alberta. Life to him, whether on the Labrador Coast, in an English school, or in his Australian home, was one perpetual picnic.
Naturally, our most important interview was with Lord Strathcona. He was President of the Hudson Bay Company, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and the Bank of Montreal. As a poor Scotch lad named Donald Smith he had lived for thirteen years of his early life in Labrador. There he had found a wife and there his daughter was born. From the very first he was thoroughly interested in our work, and all through the years until his death in 1914 his support was maintained, so that at the very time he died we were actually due to visit him the following month at Knelsworth.
We hired the best hall and advertised Sir Donald as our chairman. To save expense Dr. Bobardt acted in the ticket-box. When Sir Donald came along, not having seen him previously, he insisted on collecting fifty cents from him as from the rest. When Sir Donald strongly protested that he was our chairman, the shrewd young doctor merely replied that several others before him had made the same remark. Every one in the city knew Sir Donald; and when the matter was explained to him in the greenroom, he was thoroughly pleased with the business-like attitude of the Mission. As we had never seen Canada he insisted that we must take a holiday and visit as far west as British Columbia. All of this he not only arranged freely for us, but even saw to such details as that we should ride on the engine through the Rocky Mountains, and be entertained at his home called "Silver Heights" while in Winnipeg. It was during this trip that I visited "Grenfell Town," a queer little place called after Pascoe Grenfell, of the Bank of England. The marvel of the place to me was the thousands and thousands of acres of splendid farmland on which no one lived. I promised that I would send the hotel-keeper the Grenfell crest.
Lord Strathcona later presented the Mission with a fine little steamer, the Sir Donald, purchased and equipped at his expense through the Committee in Montreal.
We went back to England very well satisfied with our work. Dr. Bobardt left me and entered the Navy, while I returned the following year and steamed the new boat from Montreal down the St. Lawrence River and the Straits to Battle Harbour. There the Albert, which had sailed again from England with doctors, nurses, and supplies, was to meet me. We had made a fine voyage, visiting all along the coast as we journeyed, and had turned in from sea through the last "run," or passage between islands. We had polished our brass-work, cleaned up our decks, hoisted our flags, all that we might make a triumphant entry on our arrival a few minutes later—when suddenly, Buff—Bur-r—Buff, we rose, staggered, and fell over on a horrible submerged shoal. Our side was gored, our propeller and shaft gone, our keel badly splintered, and the ship left high and dry. When we realized our mistake and the dreadful position into which we had put ourselves, we rowed ashore to the nearest island, walked three or four miles over hill and bog, and from there got a fisherman with a boat to put us over to Battle Harbour Island. The good ship Albert lay at anchor in the harbour. Our new colleagues and old friends were all impatiently waiting to see our fine new steamer speed in with all her flags up—when, instead, two bedraggled-looking tramps, crestfallen almost to weeping, literally crept aboard.
Sympathy took the form of deeds and a crowd at once went round in boats with a museum of implements. Soon they had her off, and our plucky schooner took her in tow all the three hundred miles to the nearest dry-dock at St. John's.
Meanwhile Sir Thomas Roddick, of Montreal, an old Newfoundlander, had presented us with a splendid twenty-foot jolly-boat, rigged with lug-sail and centre-boom. In this I cruised north to Eskimo Bay, harbouring at nights if possible, getting a local pilot when I could, and once being taken bodily on board, craft and all, by a big friendly fishing schooner. It proved a most profitable summer. I was so dependent on the settlers and fishermen for food and hospitality that I learned to know them as would otherwise have been impossible. Far the best road to a seaman's heart is to let him do something for you. Our impressions of a landscape, like our estimates of character, all depend on our viewpoint. Fresh from the more momentous problems of great cities, the interests and misunderstandings of small isolated places bias the mind and make one censorious and resentful. But from the position of a tight corner, that of needing help and hospitality from entire strangers, one learns how large are the hearts and homes of those who live next to Nature. If I knew the Labrador people before (and among such I include the Hudson Bay traders and the Newfoundland fishermen), that summer made me love them. I could not help feeling how much more they gladly and freely did for me than I should have dreamed of doing for them had they come along to my house in London. I have sailed the seas in ocean greyhounds and in floating palaces and in steam yachts, but better than any other I love to dwell on the memories of that summer, cruising the Labrador in a twenty-footer.
That year I was late returning South. Progress is slow in the fall of the year along the Labrador in a boat of that capacity. I was weather-bound, with the snow already on the ground in Square Island Harbour. The fishery of the settlers had been very poor. The traders coming South had passed them by. There were eight months of winter ahead, and practically no supplies for the dozen families of the little village. I shall never forget the confidence of the patriarch of the settlement, Uncle Jim, whose guest I was. The fact that we were without butter, and that "sweetness" (molasses) was low, was scarcely even noticed. I remember as if it were yesterday the stimulating tang of the frosty air and the racy problem of the open sea yet to be covered. The bag of birds which we had captured when we had driven in for shelter from the storm made our dry-diet supper sweeter than any Delmonico ten-course dinner, because we had wrested it ourselves from the reluctant environment. Then last of all came the general meeting in Uncle Jim's house at night to ask the Lord to open the windows of heaven for the benefit of the pathetic little group on the island. Next morning the first thing on which our eyes lighted was the belated trader, actually driven north again by the storm, anchored right in the harbour. Of course Uncle Jim knew that it would be there. Personally, I did not expect her, so can claim no credit for the telepathy; but if faith ever did work wonders it was on that occasion. There were laughing faces and happy hearts as we said good-bye, when my dainty little lady spread her wings to a fair breeze a day or so later.
The gallant little Sir Donald did herself every credit the following year, and we not only visited the coast as far north as Cape Chidley, but explored the narrow channel which runs through the land into Ungava Bay, and places Cape Chidley itself on a detached island.
There were a great many fishing schooners far north that season, and the keen pleasures of exploring a truly marvellous coast, practically uncharted and unknown, were redeemed from the reproach of selfishness by the numerous opportunities for service to one's fellow men.
Once that summer we were eleven days stuck in the ice, and while there the huge mail steamer broke her propeller, and a boat was sent up to us through the ice to ask for our help. The truck on my mastheads was just up to her deck. The ice was a lot of trouble, but we got her into safety. On board were the superintendent of the Moravian Missions and his wife. They were awfully grateful. The great tub rolled about so in the Atlantic swell that the big ice-pans nearly came on deck. My dainty little lady took no notice of anything and picked her way among the pans like Agag "treading delicately." We had five hours' good push, however, to get into Battle Harbour. It was calm in the ice-field, only the heavy tide made it run and the little "alive" steamer with human skill beat the massive mountains of ice into a cocked hat.
At Indian Tickle there is a nice little church which was built by subscription and free labour the second year we came on the coast. There is one especially charming feature about this building. It stands in such a position that you can see it as you come from the north miles away from the harbour entrance, and it is so situated that it leads directly into the safe anchorage. There are no lights to guide sailors on this coast at all, and yet during September, October, and November, three of the most dangerous months in the year, hundreds of schooners and thousands of men, women, and children are coming into or passing through this harbour on their way to the southward. By a nice arrangement the little east window points to the north—if that is not Irish—and two large bracket lamps can be turned on a pivot, so that the lamps and their reflectors throw a light out to sea. The good planter, at his own expense, often maintains a light here on stormy or dark nights, and "steering straight for it" brings one to safety.
While cruising near Cape Chidley, a schooner signalling with flag at half-mast attracted our attention. On going aboard we found a young man with the globe of one eye ruptured by a gun accident, in great pain, and in danger of losing the other eye sympathetically. Having excised the globe, we allowed him to go back to his vessel, intensely grateful, but full of apprehension as to how his girl would regard him on his return South. It so happened that we had had a gift of false eyes, and we therefore told him to call in at hospital on his way home and take his chance on getting a blue one. While walking over the hill near the hospital that fall I ran into a crowd of young fishermen, whose schooner was wind-bound in the harbour, and who had been into the country for an hour's trouting. One asked me to look at his eye, as something was wrong with it. Being in a hurry, I simply remarked, "Come to hospital, and I'll examine it for you"; whereupon he burst out into a merry laugh, "Why, Doctor, I'm the boy whose eye you removed. This is the glass one you promised. Do you think it will suit her?"
Another time I was called to a large schooner in the same region. There were two young girls on board doing the cooking and cleaning, as was the wont in Newfoundland vessels. One, alas, was seriously ill, having given birth to a premature child, and having lain absolutely helpless, with only a crew of kind but strange men anywhere near. Rolling her up in blankets, we transferred her to the Sir Donald, and steamed for the nearest Moravian station. Here the necessary treatment was possible, and when we left for the South a Moravian's good wife accompanied us as nurse. The girl, however, had no wish to live. "I want to die, Doctor; I can never go home again." Her physical troubles had abated, but her mind was made up to die, and this, in spite of all our care, she did a few days later. The pathos of the scene as we rowed the poor child's body ashore for interment on a rocky and lonely headland, looking out over the great Atlantic, wrapped simply in the flag of her country, will never be forgotten by any of us—the silent but unanswerable reproach on man's utter selfishness. Many such scenes must rise to the memory of the general practitioner; at times, thank God, affording those opportunities of doing more for the patients than simply patching up their bodies—opportunities which are the real reward for the "art of healing." Some years later I revisited the grave of this poor girl, marked by the simple wooden cross which we had then put up, and bearing the simple inscription:
Suzanne "Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee."
The fall trip lasted till late into November, without our even realizing the fact that snow was on the ground. Indeed the ponds were all frozen and we enjoyed drives with dog teams on the land before we had finished our work and could think of leaving. We had scarcely left Flowers Cove and were just burying our little steamer—loaded to the utmost with wood, cut in return for winter clothing—in the dense fog which almost universally maintains in the Straits, and were rounding the hidden ledges of rock which lie half a mile offshore, when we discovered a huge trans-Atlantic liner racing up in our wake. We instantly put down our helm and scuttled out of the way to avoid the wash, and almost held our breath as the great steamer dashed by at twenty miles an hour, between us and the hidden shoal. She altered her helm as she did so, no doubt catching her first sight of the lighthouse as she emerged from the fog-bank, but as it was, she must have passed within an ace of the shoal. We expected every minute to see her dash on the top of it, and then she passed out of sight once more, her light-hearted passengers no doubt completely unconscious that they had been in any danger at all.
The last port of call was Henley, or Chateau, where formerly the British had placed a fort to defend it against the French. We had carried round with us a prospective bridegroom, and we were privileged to witness the wedding, a simple but very picturesque proceeding. A parson had been fetched from thirty miles away, and every kind of hospitality provided for the festive event. But in spite of the warmth of the occasion the weather turned bitterly cold, the harbour "caught over," and for a week we were prisoners. When at last the young ice broke up again, we made an attempt to cross the Straits, but sea and wind caught us halfway and forced us to run back, this time in the thick fog. The Straits' current had carried us a few miles in the meanwhile—which way we did not know—and the land, hard to make out as it was in the fog, was white with snow. However, with the storm increasing and the long dark night ahead, we took a sporting chance, and ran direct in on the cliffs. How we escaped shipwreck I do not know now. We suddenly saw a rock on our bow and a sheer precipice ahead, twisted round on our heel, shot between the two, and we knew where we were, as that is the only rock on a coast-line of twenty miles of beach—but there really is no room between it and the cliff.
All along the coast that year we noticed a change of attitude toward professional medical aid. Confidence in the wise woman, in the seventh son and his "wonderful" power, in the use of charms like green worsted, haddock fins, or scrolls of prayer tied round the neck, had begun to waver. The world talks still of a blind man made to see nineteen hundred years ago; but the coast had recently been more thrilled by the tale of a blind man made to see by "these yere doctors." One was a man who for seventeen years had given up all hope; and two others, old men, parted for years, and whose first occasion of seeing again had revealed to them the fact that they were brothers.
Some lame had also been made to walk—persons who had abandoned hope quite as much as he who lay for forty years by the Pool of Siloam, or for a similar period at the Golden Gate.
One of my first operations had been rendered absolutely inescapable by the great pain caused by a tumour in the leg. The patient had insisted on having five men sit on her while the operation proceeded, as she did not believe it was right to be put to sleep, and, moreover, she secretly feared that she might not wake up again. But now the conversion of the coast had proceeded so far that many were pleading for a winter doctor. At first we did not think it feasible, but my colleague, Dr. Willway, finally volunteered to stay at Battle Harbour. We loaded him up with all our spare assets against the experiment, the hospital being but very ill-equipped for an Arctic winter. When the following summer we approached the coast, it was with real trepidation that I scanned the land for signs of my derelict friend. We felt that he would be gravely altered at least, possibly having grown hair all over his face. When an alert, tanned, athletic figure, neatly tonsured and barbered, at last leaped over our rail, all our sympathy vanished and gave way to jealousy.
One detail, however, had gone wrong. We had anchored our beautiful Sir Donald in his care in a harbour off the long bay on the shores of which he was wintering. He had seen her once or twice in her ice prison, but when he came to look for her in the spring, she had mysteriously disappeared. The ice was there still. There wasn't a vestige of wreckage. She must have sunk, and the hole frozen up. Yet an extended period of "creeping" the bottom with drags and grapples had revealed nothing, and, anyhow, the water not being deep, her masts should have been easily visible. It was not till some time later that we heard from the South that our trusty craft had been picked up some three hundred miles to the southward and westward, well out in a heavy ice-pack, and right in amongst a big patch of seals, away off on the Atlantic. The whole of the bay ice had evidently gone out together, taking the ship with it, and the bay had then neatly frozen over again. The seal hunters laughingly assured me that they found a patch of old "swiles" having tea in the cabin. As the hull of the Sir Donald was old, and the size of the boat made good medical work aboard impossible, we decided to sell her and try and raise the funds for a more seaworthy and capable craft.
Years of experience have subsequently emphasized the fact that if you are reasonably resistant, and want to get tough and young again, you can do far worse than come and winter on "the lonely Labrador."
THE SEAL FISHERY
Returning South in the fall of 1895, business necessitated my remaining for some time in St. John's, where as previously the Governor, Sir Terence O'Brien, very kindly entertained me. It proved to be a most exciting time. There were only two banks in the Colony, called respectively the Union and the Commercial. These issued all the notes used in the country and except for the savings bank had all the deposits of the fishermen and people. Suddenly one day I was told, though with extreme secrecy, that the two banks were unsound and would not again open after Monday morning. This was early on Saturday. Business went on as usual, but among the leaders of the country consternation was beginning to spread. The banks closed at their usual hour—three o 'clock on Saturday, and so far as I knew no one profited by the secret knowledge, though later accusations were made against some people. The serious nature of the impending disaster never really dawned on me, not being either personally concerned in either bank or having any experience of finance. When the collection came around at the cathedral on Sunday my friend whispered to me, "That silver will be valuable to-morrow." It so happened that on Sunday I was dining with the Prime Minister, who had befriended all our efforts, and his tremendously serious view of the position of the Colony sent me to bed full of alarms for my new friends. We were to have sailed for England next day and I went down after breakfast to buy my ticket. The agent sold it, but remarked, "I am not sure if Newfoundland money is good any longer. It is a speculation selling you this ticket." Before we sailed the vessel was held up by the Government, as only a few of the ships were taking notes at face value. Those of the Commercial Bank were only fetching twenty cents. Besides the banks quite a number of commercial firms also closed. The directors of the banks were all local merchants, and many were heavily indebted to them for supplies given out to their "planters," as they call the fishermen whom they supply with goods in advance to catch fish for them. It was a sorry mix-up, and business was very difficult to carry on because we had no medium of exchange. Even the Governor to pay his gardener had to give I.O.U. orders on shops—there simply being no currency available.
Matters have long since adjusted themselves, though neither bank ever reopened. Larger banks of good standing came in from Canada, and no one can find anything of which to complain in the financial affairs of the "oldest Colony," even in these days of war.
Newfoundland has a large seal as well as cod fishery. The great sealing captains are all aristocrats of the fishermen and certainly are an unusually fine set of men. The work calls for peculiar training in the hardest of schools, for great self-reliance and resource, besides skill in handling men and ships. In those days the doyen of the fleet was Captain Samuel Blandford. He fired me with tales of the hardships to be encountered and the opportunities and needs for a doctor among three hundred men hundreds of miles from anywhere. The result was a decision to return early from my lecture tour and go out with the seal hunters of the good ship Neptune.
I look back on this as one of the great treats of my life; though I believe it to be an industry seriously detrimental to the welfare of the people of the Colony and the outside world. For no mammal bringing forth but one young a year can stand, when their young are just born and are entirely helpless, being attacked by huge steel-protected steamers carrying hundreds of men with modern rifles or even clubs. Advantage is also taken of the maternal instinct to get the mothers as well as the young "fat," if the latter is not obtainable in sufficient quantities. Meanwhile the poor scattered people of the northern shores of Newfoundland are being absolutely ruined and driven out. They need the seals for clothing, boots, fresh food, and fats. They use every portion of the few animals which each catches, while the big steamers lose thousands which they have killed, by not carrying them at once to the ship and leaving them in piles to be picked up later. Moreover, in the latter case all the good proteid food of their carcasses is left to the sharks and gulls.
At twelve o'clock of March 10, 1896, the good ship Neptune hauled out into the stream at St. John's Harbour, Newfoundland, preparatory to weighing anchor for the seal fishery. The law allows no vessels to sail before 2 P.M. on that day, under a penalty of four thousand dollars fine—nor may any seals be killed from the steamers until March 14, and at no time on Sundays. The whole city of St. John's seemed to be engrossed in the one absorbing topic of the seal fishery. It meant if successful some fifty thousand pounds sterling at least to the Colony—it meant bread for thousands of people—it meant for days and even weeks past that men from far-away outports had been slowly collecting at the capital, till the main street was peopled all day with anxious-looking crowds, and all the wharves where there was any chance of a "berth" to the ice were fairly in a state of siege.
Now let us go down to the dock and visit the ship before she starts. She is a large barque-rigged vessel, with auxiliary steam, or rather one should say a steamer with auxiliary sails. The first point that strikes one is her massive build, her veritable bulldog look as she sits on the water. Her sides are some eighteen inches thick, and sheathed and resheathed with "greenheart" to help her in battering the ice. Inside she is ceiled with English oak and beech, so that her portholes look like the arrow slits of the windows of an old feudal castle. Her bow is double-stemmed—shot with a broad band of iron, and the space of some seventeen feet between the two stems solid with the choicest hardwoods. Below decks every corner is adapted to some use. There are bags of flour, hard bread, and food for the crew of three hundred and twenty men; five hundred tons of coal for the hungry engine in her battle with the ice-floe. The vessel carries only about eighteen hundred gallons of water and the men use five hundred in a day. This, however, is of little consequence, for a party each day brings back plenty of ice, which is excellent drinking after being boiled. This ice is of very different qualities. Now it is "slob" mixed with snow born on the Newfoundland coast. This is called "dirty ice" by the sealers. Even it at times packs very thick and is hard to get through. Then there is the clearer, heavy Arctic ice with here and there huge icebergs frozen in; and again the smoother, whiter variety known as "whelping ice"—that is, the Arctic shore ice, born probably in Labrador, on which the seals give birth to their pups.
The masters of watches are also called "scunners"—they go up night and day in the forebarrel to "scun" the ship—that is, to find the way or leads through the ice. This word comes from "con" of the conning tower on a man-of-war.
When the morning of the 10th arrives, all is excitement. Fortunately this year a southwest wind had blown the ice a mile or so offshore. Now all the men are on board. The vessels are in the stream. The flags are up; the whistles are blowing. The hour of two approaches at last, and a loud cheering, renewed again and again, intimates that the first vessel is off, and the S.S. Aurora comes up the harbour. Cheers from the ships, the wharves, and the town answer her whistle, and closely followed by the S.S. Neptune and S.S. Windsor, she gallantly goes out, the leader of the sealing fleet for the year.
There have been two or three great disasters at the seal fishery, where numbers of men astray from their vessels in heavy snow blizzards on the ice have perished miserably. Sixteen fishermen were once out hunting for seals on the frozen ice of Trinity Bay when the wind changed and drove the ice offshore. When night came on they realized their terrible position and that, with a gale of wind blowing, they could not hope to reach land in their small boats. Nothing but an awful death stared them in the face, for in order to hunt over the ice men must be lightly clad, so as to run and jump from piece to piece. Without fire, without food, without sufficient clothing, exposed to the pitiless storm on the frozen sea, they endured thirty-six hours without losing a life. Finally, they dragged their boats ten miles over the ice to the land, where they arrived at last more dead than alive.
It is the physical excitement of travelling over broken loose ice on the bosom of the mighty ocean, and the skill and athletic qualities which the work demands, that makes one love the voyage. Jumping from the side of the ship as she goes along, skurrying and leaping from ice-pan to ice-pan, and then having killed, "sculped," and "pelted" the seal, the exciting return to the vessel! But it has its tragic side, for it takes its regular tribute of fine human life.
A Mr. Thomas Green, of Greenspond, while a boy, with his father and another man and a 'prentice lad, was tending his seal nets when a "dwey" or snowstorm came on, and the boat became unmanageable and drifted off to sea. They struck a small island, but drifted off again. That night the father and the 'prentice lad died, and next morning the other man also. The son dressed himself in all the clothes of the other three, whose bodies he kept in the boat. He ate the flesh of an old harp seal they had caught in their net. On the third day by wonderful luck he gaffed an old seal in the slob ice. This he hauled in and drank the warm blood. On the fifth day he killed a white-coat, and thinking that he saw a ship he walked five miles over the floe, leaving his boat behind. The phantom ship proved to be an island of ice, and in the night he had to tramp back to his open punt. On the seventh day he was really beginning to give up hope when a vessel, the Flora, suddenly hove in sight. He shouted loudly as it was dark, whereupon she immediately tacked as if to leave him. Again he shouted, "For God's sake, don't leave me with my dead father here!" The words were plainly heard on board, and the vessel hove to. The watch had thought that his previous shouting was of supernatural origin. He and his boat with its pitiful load were picked up and sent back home by a passing vessel.
On this particular voyage we were lucky enough to come early into the seals. From the Conner's barrel, in which I spent a great deal of time, we saw one morning black dots spread away in thousands all over the ice-floes through which we were butting, ramming, and fighting our way. All hands were over the side at once, and very soon patients began needing a doctor. Here a cut, there a wrench or sprain, and later came thirty or forty at a time with snow-blindness or conjunctivitis—very painful and disabling, though not fatal to sight.
One morning we had been kept late relieving these various slight ailments, and the men being mostly out on the ice made me think that they were among the seals; so I started out alone as soon as I could slip over the side to join them. This, however, I failed to do till late in the afternoon, when the strong wind, which had kept the loose ice packed together, dropped, and in less than no time it was all "running abroad." The result naturally is that one cannot get along except by floating on one piece to another, and that is a slow process without oars. It came on dark and a dozen of us who had got together decided to make for a large pan not far distant; but were obliged to give it up, and wait for the ship which had long gone out of sight. To keep warm we played "leap-frog," "caps," and "hop, skip, and jump"—at which some were very proficient. We ate our sugar and oatmeal, mixed with some nice clear snow; and then, shaving our wooden seal bat handles, and dipping them into the fat of the animals which we had killed, we made a big blaze periodically to attract the attention of the ship.
It was well into the night before we were picked up; and no sooner had we climbed over the rail than the skipper came and gave us the best or worst "blowing-up" I ever received since my father spanked me. He told me afterwards that his good heart was really so relieved by our safe return that he was scarcely conscious of what he said. Indeed, any words which might have been considered as unparliamentary he asked me to construe as gratitude to God.
Our captain was a passenger on and prospective captain of the S.S. Tigris when she picked up those members of the ill-fated Polaris expedition who had been five months on the ice-pans. He had gone below from his watch and daylight was just breaking when the next watch came and reported a boat and some people on a large pan, with the American flag flying. A kayak came off and Hans, an Eskimo, came alongside and said, "Ship lost. Captain gone." Boats were immediately lowered and nineteen persons, including two women and one baby, born on the ice-pan, came aboard amidst cheers renewed again and again. They had to be washed and fed, cleaned and clothed. The two officers were invited to live aft and the remainder of the rescued party being pestered to death by the sealing crew in the forecastle, it was decided to abandon the sealing trip, and the brave explorers were carried to St. John's, the American people eventually indemnifying the owners of the Tigris.
In hunting my patients I started round with a book and pencil accompanied by the steward carrying a candle and matches. The invalids were distributed in the four holds—the after, the main, forecastle, and foretop-gallant-forecastle. I never went round without a bottle of cocaine solution in my pocket for the snow-blind men, who suffered the most excruciating pain, often rolling about and moaning as if in a kind of frenzy, and to whom the cocaine gave wonderful relief. Very often I found that I must miss one or even both holds on my first rounds, for the ladders were gone and seals and coals were exchanging places in them during the first part of the day. Once down, however, one shouts out, "Is there any one here?" No answer. Louder still, "Is there any one here?" Perhaps a distant cough answers from some dark recess, and the steward and I begin a search. Then we go round systematically, climbing over on the barrels, searching under sacks, and poking into recesses, and after all occasionally missing one or two in our search. It seems a peculiarity about the men, that though they will lie up, they will not always say anything about it. The holds were very damp and dirty, but the men seemed to improve in health and fattened like the young seals. It must have been the pork, doughs, and excellent fresh meat of the seal. We had boiled or fried seal quite often with onions, and I must say that it was excellent eating—far more palatable than the dried codfish, which, when one has any ice work, creates an intolerable thirst.
The rats were making a huge noise one night and a barrel man gave it as his opinion that we should have a gale before long; but a glorious sunshine came streaming down upon us next morning, and we decided perforce the rats were evidently a little previous.
On Sunday I had a good chance to watch the seals. They came up, simply stared at the ship; now from sheer fat rolling on their backs, and lying for a few seconds tail and flippers beating the air helpless. These baby seals resemble on the ice nothing so much as the South Sea parrot fish—that is, a complete round head, with somewhere in the sphere two huge black dots for eyes and a similar one for a nose. These three form the corners of a small triangle, and except for the tail one could not easily tell which was the back and which the belly of a young white-coat—especially in stormy weather. For it is a well-ascertained fact that Nature makes the marvellous provision that in storm and snow they grow fattest and fastest. I have marvelled greatly how it is possible for any hot-blooded creature to enjoy so immensely this terribly cold water as do these old seals. They paddle about, throw themselves on their backs, float and puff out their breasts, flapping their flippers like paws over their chests.
Sunday morning we were lying off Fogo Island when some men came aboard and reported the wreck of the S.S. Wolf in the ice. She got round the island, a wind offshore having cleared the ice from the land. Three other vessels were behind her. Hardly, however, had she got round when the northerly wind brought the ice back. The doomed ship now lay between the main or fixed frozen shore ice and the immense floe which was impelled by the north wind acting on its whole irregular surface. The force was irresistible. The Wolf backed and butted and got twenty yards into a nook in the main ice, and lay there helpless as an infant. On then swept the floe, crashed into the fixed ice, shattered its edge, rose up out of water over it, which is called "rafting," forced itself on the unfortunate ship, rose over her bulwarks, crushed in her sides, and only by nipping her tightly avoided sinking her immediately. Seeing that all was lost, Captain Kean got the men and boats onto the pans, took all they could save of food and clothes, but before he had saved his own clothing, the ice parted enough to let her through and she sank like a stone, her masts catching and breaking in pieces as she went. A sorrowful march for the shore now began over the ice, as the three hundred men started for home, carrying as much as they could on their backs. Many would have to face empty cupboards and hard times; all would have days of walking and rowing and camping before they could get home. One hundred miles would be the least, two and even three hundred for some, before they could reach their own villages. Some of these poor fellows had walked nearly two hundred miles to get a chance of going on the lost ship, impelled by hunger and necessity. Alas, we felt very sad for them and for Captain Kean, who had to face almost absolute ruin on account of this great loss.
The heaving of the great pans, like battering-rams against the sides of the Neptune, made a woesome noise below decks. I was often glad of her thirty-six inches of hardwood covering. Every now and then she steamed ahead a little and pressed into the ice to prevent this. I tried to climb on one of the many icebergs, but the heavy swell made it dangerous. At every swell it rolled over and back some eight feet, and as I watched it I understood how an iceberg goes to wind. For it acted exactly like a steam plough, crashing down onto one large pan as it rolled, and then, as it rolled back, lifting up another and smashing it from beneath. A regular battle seemed to be going on, with weird sounds of blows and groanings of the large masses of ice. Sometimes as pieces fell off the water would rush up high on the side of the berg. For some reason or other the berg had red-and-white streaks, and looked much like an ornamental pudding.
At latitude 50.18, about Funk Island, is one of the last refuges of the great auk. A few years ago, the earth, such as there is on these lonely rocks, was sifted for the bones of that extinct bird, and I think three perfect skeletons, worth a hundred pounds sterling each, were put together from the remnants discovered. One day the captain told me that he held on there in a furious gale for some time. Masses of ice, weighing thirty or forty tons, were hurled high up and lodged on the top of the island. Some men went out to "pan" seals on a large pan. Seven hundred of the animals had been placed on one of them, and the men had just left it, when a furious breaking sea took hold of the pan and threw it completely upside down.
I am never likely to forget the last lovely Sunday. We had nearly "got our voyage"; at least no one was anxious now for the credit of the ship. The sunshine was blazing hot as it came from above and below at the same time, and the blue sky over the apparently boundless field of heaving "floe" on which we lay made a contrast which must be seen to be appreciated. I had brought along a number of pocket hymn-books and in the afternoon we lay out on the high fore-deck and sang and talked, unworried by callers and the thousand interruptions of the land. Then we had evening prayers together, Catholic and Protestant alike; and for my part I felt the nearness of God's presence as really as I have felt it in the mysterious environment of the most magnificent cathedral. Eternal life seemed so close, as if it lay just over that horizon of ice, in the eternal blue beyond.
THREE YEARS' WORK IN THE BRITISH ISLES
In the spring of 1897 I was asked by the Council to sail to Iceland with a view to opening work there, in response to a petition sent in to the Board by the Hearn longliners and trawlers, who were just beginning their vast fishery in those waters from Hull and Grimsby.
Having chosen a smaller vessel, so as to leave the hospital ship free for work among the fleets, we set sail for Iceland in June. The fight with the liquor traffic which the Mission had been waging had now been successful in driving the sale of intoxicants from the North Sea by international agreement; but the proverbial whiskey still continued its filibustering work in the Scotch seaports. As our men at times had to frequent these ports we were anxious to make it easier for them to walk straight while they were ashore.
We therefore called at Aberdeen on the way and anchored off the first dock. The beautiful Seaman's Home there was on the wrong side of the harbour for the vessels, and was not offering exactly what was needed. So we obtained leave to put a hull in the basin, with a first-aid equipment, refreshments, lounge and writing-rooms, and with simple services on Sunday. This boat commenced then and there, and was run for some years under Captain Skiff; till she made way for the present homely little Fishermen's Institute exactly across the road from the docks before you came to the saloons.
I shall not soon forget our first view of the cliffs of the southern coast of Iceland. We had called at Thorshaven in the Faroe group to see what we could learn of the boats fishing near Rockall; but none were there at the time. As we had no chronometers on our own boat we were quite unable to tell our longitude—a very much-needed bit of information, for we had had fog for some days, and anyhow none of us knew anything about the coast.
We brought up under the shadow of the mighty cliffs and were debating our whereabouts, when we saw an English sailing trawler about our own size, with his nets out close in under the land. So we threw out our boat and boarded him for information. He proved to be a Grimsby skipper, and we received the usual warm reception which these Yorkshire people know so well how to give. But to my amazement he was unable to afford us the one thing which we really desired. "I've been coming this way, man and boy, for forty years," he assured me. "But I can't read the chart, and I knows no more of the lay of the land than you does yourself. I don't use no chart beyond what's in my head."
With this we were naturally not content, so we sent back to the boat for our own sheet chart to try and get more satisfactory information. But when it lay on the table in this old shellback's cabin all he did was to put down on it a huge and horny thumb that was nearly large enough to cover the whole historic island, and "guess we were somewhere just about here."
Our cruise carried us all round the island—the larger part of our time being spent off the Vestmann Islands and the mouth of Brede Bugt, the large bay in which Reikyavik lies. It was off these islands that Eric the Red threw his flaming sticks into the sea. The first brand which alighted on the land directed him where to locate his new headquarters. Reikyavik means "smoking village," so called from the vapours of the hot streams which come out of the ground near by.
There is no night on the coast in summer; and even though we were a Mission ship we found it a real difficulty to keep tab of Sundays. The first afternoon that I went visiting aboard a large trawler, the extraordinary number of fish and the specimens of unfamiliar varieties kept me so interested that I lost all count of time, and when at last hunger prompted me to look at my watch I found that it was exactly 1.30 A.M.
At that time so many plaice and flatfish were caught at every haul, and they were so much more valuable than cod and haddock, that it was customary not to burden the vessel on her long five days' journey to market with round fish at all. These were, however, hauled up so rapidly to the surface from great depths that they had no time to accommodate the tension in their swimming bladders to the diminished pressure, with the result that when thrown overboard they were all left swimming upside down. A pathetic wake of white-bellied fish would stretch away for half a mile behind the vessel, over which countless screaming gulls and other birds were fighting. A sympathy for their horribly unprotected helplessness always left an uneasy sinking feeling at the pit of my own stomach. The waste has, however, righted itself in the course of years by the simple process of an increasing scarcity of the species, making it pay to save all haddock, cod, hake, ling, and other fish good for food, formerly so ruthlessly cast away.
One had many interesting experiences in this voyage, some of which have been of no small value subsequently. But the best lesson was the optimism and contentment of one's fellows, who had apparently so few of the things that only tyrannize the lives of those who live for them. They were a simple, kindly, helpful people, living in a country barren and frigid beyond all others, with no trees except in one extreme corner of the island. The cows were literally fed on salt codfish and the tails of whales, and the goats grazed on the roofs of the houses, where existed the only available grass. There were dry, hard, and almost larval deposits over the whole surface of the land which is not occupied by perpetual snow and ice. The hot springs which abound in some regions only suggest a forlorn effort on the part of Nature at the last moment to save the situation. The one asset of the country is its fisheries, and of these the whale and seal fisheries were practically handed over to Norwegians; while large French and English boats fell like wolves on the fish, which the poor natives had no adequate means of securing for themselves.
We were fishing one day in Seyde Fjord on the east coast, when suddenly with much speed and excitement the great net was hauled, and we started with several other trawlers to dash pell-mell for the open sea. The alarm of masts and smoke together on the horizon had been given—the sign manual of the one poor Danish gunboat which was supposed to control the whole swarm of far smarter little pirates, which lived like mosquitoes by sucking their sustenance from others. The water was as a general rule too deep outside the three-mile limit for legitimate fishing.
The mention of Iceland brings to every one's mind the name of Pierre Loti. We saw many of the "pecheurs d'islande" whom he so effectively portrays; and often felt sorry enough for them, fishing as they still were from old square-rigged wind-jammers. On some of these which had been months on the voyage, enough green weed had grown "to feed a cow"—as the mate put it.
On our return home we reported the need of a Mission vessel on the coast, but the difficulty of her being where she was wanted at the right time, over such an extended fishery ground, was very considerable. We decided that only a steam hospital trawler would be of any real value—unless a small cottage hospital could be started in Seyde Fjord, to which the sick and injured could be taken.
It was now thought wise that I should take a holiday, and thus through the kindness of my former chief, Sir Frederick Treves, then surgeon to the King, whose life he had been the means of saving, I found myself for a time his guest on the Scilly Islands. There we could divert our minds from our different occupations, conjuring up visions of heroes like Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who lost his life here, and of the scenes of daring and of death that these beautiful isles out in the Atlantic have witnessed. Nor did we need Charles Kingsley to paint for us again the visit of Angus Lee and Salvation Yeo, for Sir Frederick, as his book, "The Cradle of the Deep," shows, is a past-master in buccaneer lore. Besides that we had with us his nephew, the famous novel writer, A.E.W. Mason.
Treves, with his usual insatiable energy, had organized a grand regatta to be held at St. Mary's, at which the Governor of the island, the Duke of Wellington, and a host of visiting big-wigs were to be present. One event advertised as a special attraction was a life-saving exhibition to be given by local experts from the judges' stage opposite the grand stand on the pier. This, Mason and I, being little more than ornaments in the other events, decided to try and improve upon. Dressed as a somewhat antiquated lady, just at the psychological moment Mason fell off the pier head with a loud scream—when, disguised as an aged clergyman, wildly gesticulating, and cramming my large beaver hat hard down on my head, I dived in to rescue him. A real scene ensued. We were dragged out with such energy that the lady lost her skirt, and on reaching the pier fled for the boat-house clad only in a bonnet and bodice over a bathing-suit. Although the local press wrote up the affair as genuine, the secret somehow leaked out, and we had to make our bow at the prize distribution the following evening.
Only parts of the winter seasons could be devoted to raising money. The general Mission budget had to be taken care of as well as the special funds; besides which one had to superintend the North Sea work. Thus the summer of 1897 was spent in Iceland as above described, and some of the winter in the North Sea. The spring, summer, and part of the fall of 1898 were occupied by the long Irish trip, which established work among the spring herring and mackerel men from Crookhaven.
On leaving England for one of these North Sea trips I was delayed and missed the hospital ship, so that later I was obliged to transfer to her on the high seas from the little cutter which had kindly carried me out to the fishing grounds. Friends had been good enough to give me several little delicacies on my departure, and I had, moreover, some especially cherished personal possessions which I desired to have with me on the voyage. These choice treasures consisted of some eggs, a kayak, a kodak, a chronometer, and a leg of mutton! After I was safely aboard the Mission hospital ship I found to my chagrin that in my anxiety to transfer the eggs, the kayak, the kodak, the chronometer, and especially the leg of mutton to the Albert, I had forgotten my personal clothing. I appreciated the fact that a soaking meant a serious matter, as I had to stay in bed till my things, which were drenched during my passage in the small boat, were dry again.
It was on this same voyage that a man, badly damaged, sent off for a doctor. It was a dirty dark morning, "thick o' rain," and a nasty sea was running, but we were really glad of a chance of doing anything to relieve the monotony. So we booted and oil-skinned, sou'-westered and life-jacketed, till we looked like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and felt much as I expect a German student does when he is bandaged and padded till he can hardly move, preparatory to his first duel. The boat was launched and eagerly announcing the fact by banging loudly and persistently on the Albert's side. Our two lads, Topsy and Sam, were soon in the boat, adopting the usual North Sea recipe for transit: (1) Lie on the rail full length so as not to get your legs and hands jammed. (2) Wait till the boat bounces in somewhere below you. (3) Let go! It is not such a painful process as one might imagine, especially when one is be-padded as we were. The stretcher was now handed in, and a bag of splints and bandages. "All gone!" shouted simultaneously the mate and crew, who had risked a shower bath on deck to see us off; and after a vicious little crack from the Albert's quarter as we dropped astern, we found ourselves rushing away before the rolling waters, experiencing about the same sensation one can imagine a young sea-gull feels when he begins to fly.
While the skipper was at work in the tobacco locker one morning he heard a fisherman say that he had taken poison.
"Where did you get it?"
"I got it from the Albert."
"Who gave it to you?"
"Skipper ——" mentioning the skipper's name.
At this the skipper came out trembling, wondering what he had done wrong now.
"Well, you see it was this way. Our skipper had a bad leg, so as I was going aboard for some corf mixture, he just arst me to get him a drop of something to rub in. Well, the skipper here gives me a bottle of red liniment for our skipper's leg, and a big bottle of corf mixture for me, but by mistake I drinks the liniment and gave the corf mixture to our skipper to rub in his leg. I only found out that there yesterday, so I knew I were poisoned, and I've been lying up ever since."
"How long ago did you get the medicine?"
"About a fortnight."
This man had got it into his head that he was poisoned, and nothing on earth would persuade him to the contrary, so he was put to bed in the hospital. For three meals he had nothing but water and a dose of castor oil. By the next time dinner came round the patient really began to think he was on the mend, and remarked that "he began to feel real hungry like." It was just marvellous how much better he was before tea. He went home to his old smack, cured, and greatly impressed with the capacity of the medical profession.
The first piece of news that reached us in the spring was that the Sir Donald had been found frozen in the floe ice far out on the Atlantic. No one was on board her, and there was little of any kind in her, but even the hardy crew of Newfoundland sealers who found her, as they wandered over the floating ice-fields in search of seals, did not fail to appreciate the weird and romantic suggestions of a derelict Mission steamer, keeping her lonely watch on that awful, deathlike waste. She had been left at Assizes Harbour, usually an absolutely safe haven of rest. But she was not destined to end her chequered career so peacefully, for the Arctic ice came surging in and froze fast to her devoted sides, then bore her bodily into the open sea, as if to give her a fitting burial. The sealing ship Ranger passed her a friendly rope, and she at length felt the joyful life of the rolling ocean beneath her once more, and soon lay safely ensconced in the harbour at St. John's. Here she was sold by auction, and part of the proceeds divided as her ransom to her plucky salvors.
The money which could be especially devoted to the new steamer for Labrador, over and above the general expenses, was not forthcoming until 1899, when the contract for building the ship was given to a firm at Dartmouth in Devon. The chief donor of the new boat was again Lord Strathcona, after whom she was subsequently named.
On June 27, 1899, the Strathcona was launched, and christened by Lady Curzon-Howe. When the word was given to let go, without the slightest hitch or roll the ship slid steadily down the ways into the water. The band played "Eternal Father," "God save the Queen," and "Life on the Ocean Wave." Lord Curzon-Howe was formerly commodore upon the station embracing the Newfoundland and Labrador coast. Lord Strathcona regretted his enforced absence and sent "Godspeed" to the new steamer.
She arrived at Gorleston July 18, proving an excellent sea-boat, with light coal consumption. She is larger than the vessel in which Drake sailed round the world, or Dampier raided the Spanish Main, or than the Speedy, which Earl Dundonald made the terror of the French and Spanish.