© 2004-2016

Patagonia Bookshelf



(1786 January, Friday 6)

After proceeding to the Westward for about two miles, we met with a sandy bar that runs quite across, and forms a bay within the other: small Vessels might go over this bar at high water and lie perfectly secure; but it not answering our purpose, we landed and walked into the country, which was all in a wild state, without the least appearance of cultivation, and not a stick of wood to be seen as far as the eye could reach ; but a good substitute, as fuel, may easily be procured, which is the root of a long coarse grass, that grows in many places quite to the water's edge, and when dry would make excellent turf. In our walk we picked up an iron hoop, and saw some dung which appeared like that of an hog; but our principal design in making this excursion was not answered, as we could not find any water so convenient as that to the Northward of our present situation; on which I returned on board at one o'clock, and determined to make the ship as secure as possible, in order that we might proceed on our watering business without the least delay.

At two o'clock the wind blowing very strong at South; top-masts were struck close down to the rigging, and the lower yards kept aloft. In the night the weather grew more moderate, and at four o'clock in the morning of the 7th, the long-boat was hoisted out and sent on shore with a watering party; the cables were got upon deck, in order to get at the empty butts under them. At eleven o'clock the boat returned with a load of water which filled thirteen butts in the main hold; she was immediately dispatched for another turn of water. During the afternoon we had fresh gales and very squally weather, so that it was with great difficulty the long-boat got a second turn of water on board; this completed the main-hold, and the cables were again coiled down.

Ot the 8th I gave as many men as could be conveniently spared from the ship leave to recreate themselves on shore, and a boat to remain with them all day, in order to bring them on board in the evening. The 25th December being at sea, and the weather very unsettled, we declined celebrating Christmas until a more favourable opportunity; and this being a very convenient time, I gave all hands a double allowance of brandy, and some fresh pork which I killed for the occasion: these indulgences, together with a good walk on shore, made the Christmas pass very pleasantly; and in the evening I had the satisfaction of seeing my ship's company in good spirits; not a single man incapable of doing his duty from drunkenness or any other cause.

Our people, when on shore, made excursions into various parts of the country, and some of them discovered the ruins of a town, with some garden ground adjoining, in which were a few flowers; several sorts of vegetables in small quantities, such as horseradish, shalots, a few small potatoes, and some celery, which was in a degenerate state: they likewise saw a hog, but he was so wild they could not catch him.

Monday 9. This forenoon we completed our water, and the longboat was sent for a load of stone ballast; the people who remained on board yesterday, had liberty given them to go on shore; they landed on the West side of the harbour, near the ruins of the town I have already taken notice of; and at some distance in the country saw a bullock, a cow, and several hogs, which probably were left behind when the place was evacuated. 

From this to the 14th we were engaged in various necessary employments. About seven tons of stone ballast were taken on board, and our boats likewise assisted the Queen Charlotte in the same business, as she required a much larger quantity of ballast than the King George. A number of seals and sea lions were killed for the sake of their skins and blubber; and the carpenters were fully employed in caulking the quick-work and other parts that were found defective, in order that we might. proceed to sea as soon as possible. I gave the people liberty to go on shore at every opportunity, being convinced that land-air and exercise conduce very much to preserve the health of seamen in long voyages.

During this interval we in general had fresh gales at South West, with squally weather and frequent rain.

Sunday 15. At nine o'clock this evening a sloop arrived in the harbour, and anchored off the town. Early next morning, captain Coffin came on board the King George, and informed me that his sloop is named the Speedwell, and is tender to a ship called the United States, commanded by captain Hussey, and now lying in a good harbour at Swan Island, in company with the Canton, captain Whippy: both these Vessels were employed in the oil trade, and had nearly completed their cargoes ; the United States having 300 tons of oil on board, and the Canton about half that quantity.

The chief part of their oil is procured from animals they call sea elephants. These creatures are certainly amphibious, as they generally frequent sandy bays, or the points of bays that are composed of smooth flat stones. A good sea elephant yields near half a ton of oil, which is produced without boiling, the blubber is so exceedingly free: if put into casks, the blubber will soon run to oil, and afterwards it may be strained off into other calks; but this process being rather tedious where there are very large quantities of blubber, captain Coffin informed me they had discovered a better and more expeditious method.

They build a tank on shore, of a size sufficiently large to contain any quantity of oil they expect to procure. Over this tank a grating work is fixed by way of strainer; the blubber is then thrown on the grating, and weights being put on it, the oil is soon pressed out. Adjoining to the large tank is a smaller one, into which the oil is strained a second time; by this means it is rendered perfectly fine, and may be put into casks at pleasure.

From the description given by the late captain Cook of an animal he saw at New Georgia, I have no doubt but it was a sea elephant; and there is every reason to suppose they may be found at that island in great plenty: the same may be said of Kerguelen's Land, where we touched during captain Cook's last voyage, and found a number of these animals, which we then supposed to be sea lions; but this was certainly a mistaken notion, for they were very tame, and killed with the greatest ease, whilst the sea lions met with at this place are quite furious, and ought not to be attacked without great caution.

Source: "A voyage round the world; but more particularly to the North-West coast of America …" (pp. 32-35), Nathaniel Portlock, pub. London 1789
Clipped: 4-IX-2013
Copyright © 2004-2016 Duncan S. Campbell + Gladys Grace P.
— for personal and educational use only — please cite this URL —