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Patagonia Bookshelf

New England whalers and sealers at the Malvinas / Falkland Islands (Summer 1834)
Fishery operations, glimpsed through the journal of Rev. Titus Coan

Sunday, February 9th, 1834 through Saturday, February 15th, 1834

Port Louis, Berkeley Sound, Lord's day Feb 9th. Had a dead calm all the night, but found this morning that the tide had drifted our vessel into the mouth of Berkeley Sound. Saw the French Ship beating out against a head wind. The "Antarctic" was hove to wait the return of her boat which went out on yesterday. Spoke the Man of War as she passed us, and found her to be the "Victorious" twenty two days from Rio Janeiro and bound to Valparaíso. Our boat returned at half past ten A.M. with an earnest invitation from the Governor for the "Antarctic" to visit Port Louis when the Captain immediately put her before the wind to run up thither. All hands were busy in putting the vessel in order to receive visitors etc., and no time or place was found to remember the Sabbath.

At 2 P.M. we came to anchor at Port Louis and Captain Mallas [sic - Mallros, Ed.] and another gentleman from the English Schooner "Hopeful" were immediately on board.

When they had remained about 2 hours, Captain Nash went on shore with them to visit the Governor. Thus the day has been one of more than usual interruption and trial.

My soul is pained at such palpable disregard of the Sabbath, and I have often longed for the wings of a dove that I might seek a resting place from these distressing scenes.

Monday Feb. 10th. The hands have been engaged in taking in water for sea. At one o'clock Captain Nash sent to the Government house and invited the Governor, Mr. Rea and Mr. Foxton on board to dine. They all accepted the invitation and several hours were spent in friendly conversation with these Gentlemen. Captain Nash presented the Governor with a guanaco skin mantle, an article which he had never before seen. At evening the Governor sent a pitcher of milk on board, which was not a little refreshing in this desert land.

Feb. 11th. Took a ramble on shore in the morning and visited the village church yard. This, like the village, and every thing about it, appears in a neglected and dilapidated condition. Four rude boards mark the resting place of as many English and American seamen who have fallen here. The other graves are undistinguished by any memorial of their cold tenants.

Went to see a "Carol" [sic - corral, Ed.]. This is nothing more than an enclosure with high turf walls for the purpose of confining wild cattle, several hundreds of which have sometimes been thus shut up together. Out of these the butcher selects for the consumption of the settlement and for market as occasion requires. These bullocks are let out of their pound to feed either by being secured by a tether or carefully watched by herdsmen until they become tame. Only fourteen cattle are in the "carall" at this time, the cattle being more scarce than formerly, and there being a want of horses and experienced men to take them.

Called on the Governor and took a walk with him in his garden and in the fields. His garden contains an acre of ground and the soil appears fine, but he arrived too late in the season to cultivate many vegetables this summer. He is, however, putting it in order for the next year.

In the afternoon the Governor presented Captain Nash with a quarter of beef.

A boat was sent out on a fishing expedition, and returned at evening with more than Peter caught, after having let go two thirds of the quantity which were hauled to the shore. These fishes are about the size of a large shad, and may be taken in the coves about these Islands in large quantities.

Choiseule's Bay Feb. 12th. Left Port Louis early this morning for Eagle Island. While we were getting under way the Governor came on board to leave some dispatches and to bid us farewell. The more I see of this man, the better I am pleased with him. He is easy and familiar in his manners, appears to treat all his dependents with kindness and urbanity: and exhibits little of ostentation and haughtiness, so often seen in men of rank.

Captain Mallros of the English Schooner "Hopeful", also paid us a farewell visit, and sailed some distance down the Sound with us, when he left us and returned to his vessel.

Captain Prior of the English Sloop which was lost in the ice in search of the newly discovered Islands in the South Seas, takes a passage for himself and four of his crew, to New Island, on board the "Antarctic".

While passing the "South Rocks", in the mouth of Berkeley Sound, we saw them covered with fur Seals, while the waters around the rocks were literally alive with the gambols of these animals. Boats were prepared to launch in pursuit of them, but as the rocks were small and ragged, so that there was little prospect of taking many, the expedition was finally abandoned. Probably there were more than a 1000 on these Rocks.

The manner of taking Seals is, to land without noise, on the little Islands and rocks where they haul up, and before they have time to leap into the sea dispatch them with clubs of 4 feet in length.

The seal is a very slow clumsy animal on land, but extremely swift and expert in the water. When attacked they will attempt to defend themselves with great resolution, but when they find that there is no hope of escape, it is said that they will utter the most piteous and supplicative moans, and even shed tears like a human being.

Many hundreds are often killed on a single rock, and perhaps as many pups, or young ones, left without their dams [their mothers, Ed.], to perish by starvation. As these pups when very young are of no value, the sealers either kill in sport or compassion, or else leave them to the lingering death of famine. These little animals often live 8 or 10 days after their mothers are killed; but by the fourth and fifth days the pains of hunger begin to press them, so that their cries of agony are said to be heart-piercing. They will crawl about upon the rocks and attempt to draw nutriment from each other, or from rags on the sailors' trousers, and as death approaches, they will gnaw the rocks in convulsive agonies, rolling their eyes and uttering [cries?] which might move a heart of stone.

Saw two ships off the entrance of Berkeley Sound but were unable to speak them. After a pleasant sail of about 45 miles, we came to anchor in this Bay about sundown, to await the arrival of another day, as sailing among these rocky Islands in the night is dangerous.

Feb. 13th. At daylight this morning our anchor was weighed and we proceeded on our way. With light and head winds, our progress was slow. Passed numerous small islands, some composed of naked rock, some clothed with grass, and others yielding peat and tussocks [Author's note: Tussac grass, Dactylis caspitosa. Ed.] in abundance. Did not reach our port of destination as we had expected and were obliged to keep out to sea during the night.

Clark's Harbour, Eagle Island, East Falklands. Feb 14th/34 Came to anchor in this harbour early this morning. Most of the crew spent the day on shore in search of wild hogs and other game. Some geese and a variety of birds were taken but no hogs.

Feb. 15. Mr. Johnson, who has been some time in irons was put on shore today at his own request. He is to be left here with two boats, a gun and ammunition, a quantity of provisions, his share of seal skins etc.

Went on shore in the morning in company with a boat's crew, to take a ramble in search of geese. Twelve were taken together with a variety of smaller fowls, also a fine swan. Returned on board at 2 P.M. in a rough sea and a high wind, so that we were all well drenched by the waves. Just at night two Schooners came into the harbour and anchored along side the "Antarctic". One was the "Unicorn", an armed English vessel, now engaged in surveying these Islands under the direction of the British Government. The other was the "Elizabeth Jane", Captain Albertson of New York. Captain Albertson came on board. He has been on a sealing voyage to the western coast of Patagonia, but having been unsuccessful he has come to these Islands to spend a few months in the Whale fishery.