Page images
PDF
EPUB

Meanwhile, others are busily engaged in fashioning lines, to which are appended numerous small barbed hooks, cunningly concealed beneath pellets of bread or suet ;—but these preparations, of apparently a piscatory nature, are meant to decoy the feathered and not the finny tribe ; for the Cape pigeons,* at first hovering singly around, now gradually increasing in boldness as well as numbers, have at last fearlessly alighted within pistol-shot astern, and some are even fluttering past, so near the counter of the ship, that one venturous youth, armed with a long hunting whip, has been tempted to try on them the effect of the lash, though with no other result, than of bringing that of criticism on his unsuccessful efforts !

But, behold! he of the “hooks and line” is more fortunate, and has got a nibble; the poor Cape pigeon-in all his painted plumage but a mere gull-has greedily swallowed the bait, and is quickly drawn in ; he has safely reached the taffrail, — 'tis a moment of anxious suspense, when lo ! he manages to disgorge the treacherous morsel, and flies off free and unscathed, to the no small disappointment of all the “griff's.”+

Meanwhile the owners of pistols, rifles, and fowling-pieces, though strongly tempted to open fire on the foe, have, with praiseworthy selfdenial, hitherto refrained from spoiling the sport of “ Piscator,” or, rather, of “Hook and Line.” Many a barrel has been involuntarily raised and again lowered ; many a finger has gently pressed the yielding trigger, to be again withdrawn, as an Albatross of unusual dimensions, either settled on the water, or slowly swept around within gun-shot range.

But see! at least a dozen Cape pigeons have dropped on yon handful of shavings just consigned by the carpenter to the deep. The birds are so close that a well-directed biscuit, cast by the weakest arm, would fall amongst the piebald group ; so near have they fearlessly approached, that we can e'en scan the eager glistening of their eyes, watch the quick motion of their tiny feet; nay, count the very briny drops so noiselessly gliding off the smooth, oily surface of their mottled coats.

St. Anthony was surely never exposed to such temptations as now assail our youthful friends! With common impulse, -muskets, rifles, and pistols are simultaneously raised. But, hold's one of the officers of the ship now suddenly appears on deck, armed with a weapon, before which rifles and fowling-pieces bow down their diminished heads ; and noisy “ villanous saltpetre” acknowledges a higher and more silent power, in the small, unpretending tube of that "air"-gun, now quickly levelled at the foe. A slight splashing sound is heard as the bullet strikes the water ; it has not, however, touched its intended mark, but the Pintadoes, undismayed, continue quietly to swim about ; a second shot soon follows—and, in this case, proves a messenger of death—no splash is now seen or beard, but a dull, subdued, indescribable sound, the collision of lead and feathers, barely reaches the ear; one of the poor birds turns suddenly over in the agonies of death, and a faint crimson stain discolours the surrounding water.

The “musketeers,” fancying the alarmed Pintadoes would now natu

A species of the peterel tribe known as the " pintado,” a term probably applied by the Portuguese, and meaning “painted,” or piebald, in reference to the black and white plumage of this bird.

† The abbreviation of “griffin," a term applied in India to all “ Johnny new. comes."

rally fly the scene of slaughter, are in readiness to give them a parting volley ; however, instead of taking flight, they press eagerly around their fallen comrade, no doubt for the charitable purpose of tendering help; but no! misfortune amidst the feathered tribes meets, apparently, with as little sympathy as with the human race! His former friends now assail the dying wretch with blows and taunts—he is jostled, worried, pecked—and, like a wounded deer, appears doomed to destruction by the rest of the flock.

Meanwhile, the Angel of Death, or owner of that “air"-gun, has, with unerring aim, been busily dealing forth destruction around, and the watery plain is now thickly covered with the dead and dying,—but a slight ** cat’s-paw” has just ruffled a portion of the far watery horizon, the upper saiis soon feel the influence of the coming breeze, which steadies by degrees the flapping canvass, as yet affectionately hugging the upright masts ;-the circling eddy, as seen in some dark sullen stream, deeply revolving in the vessel's wake, shows that, obeying the helm, she begins perceptibly to forge a-head. As the distance between the above group and the ship thus gradually augments, two or three huge Albatross—attentive observers of occurring facts-presently drop heavily amongst the minor fry, for the purpose, no doubt, of “intervention,” which, similar to that exercised between powerful and weaker states, will end by their taking the lion's share, and depositing in their own maws all that remains of the poor Pintadoes !

But, behold yon large gray fellow seems intent on other and more dainty fare ; he has made one or two reconnoitering swoops above the outstretched and tightened line, now carelessly held by a small cadet, who eagerly surveys the fast-receding group. "By Jove ! he has settled down close to the baited hook, which, impelled by the lately-acquired motion of the ship, is gently tripping along the rippled surface of the water. All eyes are at present turned in this direction; and the little fellow is in an ecstacy of hope and fear.

“Veer out more cable,” cries a weather-beaten tar.

With nervous trepidation the young sportsman instantly obeys the command, — the dainty morsel remains floating and stationary for a second, --but that second has sealed the fate of the voracious Albatross ; with arching neck he stoops on the tempting bait, wide opens his curved beak, and then gulps down at a single swallow suet, hook, and the extremity of the line, which our young sportsman feels sensibly tightened in The whole

group

of
passengers

stand around in the breathless silence of suspense,

“Now, then, sir, haul away,” exclaims the old sailor.

The line is, luckily, sound and strong, and the hook has fortunately found good“ holding ground” in the monster's gullet, for he throws himself on his back, and makes all possible resistance against the water with his webbed feet, but all to no purpose ; the breeze freshens up, and as the gallant ship darts o'er the rippling waters, friend Albatross is unwillingly raised from their surface, dragged futtering through the air, and at last, with out-stretched wings—extending full eight feet from tip to tip—he is hauled on board and safely deposited on the deck, where, after staggering about with the ungainly gait and stupid vacant gaze of a drunken man, he, like many others similarly circumstanced, commences

his grasp;

his initiatory probation of nautical life by (listen not to it, ears polite !) instantly “casting up his accounts” to the no small amusement of his exulting captors and great detriment of the polished deck.

Proud of his prize, the youngster is, without further preliminary, about to rush in and secure the staggering captive, when a sturdy “ Avast, there, yonng gentleman! Do you wish to have your fins nipped off ?” suddenly brings him up in his hasty career; his monitor, the old sailor, throws a jacket over the head of Mr.

Albatross, and thus, blindfolded, and rendered harmless, he is carried off in triumph, destined probably at some future period to be stuffed, “ set up,” and become the stationary inhabitant of a snug glass-case in the paternal mansion.

Such are, during a calm, the usual pastimes in a sailing vessel whilst navigating the stormy Antarctic seas ; but in this our present trip it was our fate to go by “steam,” to run short of fuel, then to encounter, when about the latitude of the Cape, a strong south-easterly gale, against which unable to contend, we were driven to leeward of our port, and obliged, most reluctantly, to run for shelter to Saldanha Bay.

Saldanha Bay, about sixty miles to the northward of Cape Town, on the western coast, being completely land-locked, is the only safe port of refuge on this inhospitable and iron-bound shore, the proximity to which is first announced by the peculiar colour of the sea, which here assumes a dark olive tint, approaching almost to black.

This vast inland sheet of water, capable of containing the whole British navy, forms one of the noblest harbours in the world, and in historic associations is intimately connected with the settlement of the Cape.

It was first, as the name implies, discovered by the Portuguese, and afterwards much frequented by the early Dutch settlers of the Cape, who, according to the journal of Van Riebeck,* carried on extensive traffic with a native tribe, called by him the “ Saldanhiers,” from whom the Dutch obtained cattle in exchange for tobacco, brass wire, beads, and other baubles.

Towards the end of last century Saldanha Bay was on the declaration of war with the Netherlands) the memorable scene of the wholesale capture of the Dutch fleet, so graphically described by the French traveller Le Vaillant, who witnessed the event, and who, in glowing language, likewise relates the valour he displayed in the destruction of a huge panther near the shores of the bay. Unfortunately for the degree of credit to be attached to this relation of the “lively Frenchman,” our countryman Barrow (who, by the bye, in his writings occasionally romances nearly as much) followed close in his footsteps, and was thus enabled to expose many of the fabulous creations of a very poetical imagination.

The latter author, who visited the Boer's, or Dutch settler's family, with whom Le Vaillant was residing when this "grande chasse” took place, says:—“The story of shooting the tiger, in which his great courage is contrasted with the cowardice of the peasantry, 1 read to them out of his book. They laughed very heartily, and assured me that though the story had some foundation in fact, the animal had been shot through the body by a stell-roer, or trap-gun, set by a Hottentot, and was expiring under a bush at the time they found it, when the valiant Frenchman discharged the contents of his musket into the tiger and despatched him.' Let this, kind reader, be a warning, and beware of travellers' tales, par

Van Riebeck, a surgeon in the Dutch East India Company's service, was in 1650 the founder and first governor of the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. perennial

ticularly when relating to adventures in “ Southern Africa,' where we have now arrived.

With all the advantages Saldanha Bay possesses as a secure and landlocked harbour, capable of containing shipping of any size and to any amount, it may perhaps be deemed matter of surprise that the open and unprotected shores of Table Bay-in fact, no bay at all, but a mere roadstead, and during several months of the year, a mest insecure one to boot -should have been fixed on as the site of the principal settlement in the colony of the Cape of Good Hope.

The only reason assignable for this preference is the copious supply of water, which, issuing from Table Mountain, abundantly provides for the wants of the inhabitants and shipping ; but although no such stream falls into Saldanha Bay, a small river, called the “ Berg,” which “never fails even in the driest weather,"* discharging itself into St. Helena Bay (a distance of about fifteen miles by land), might, it is said, be easily diverted from its course, and, from the nature of the ground, made readily to flow into the former gulf.

Barrow, moreover, asserts that “the spring at Witte Klip (the White Rock) about six miles to the northward of Hoetjes Bay (one of the branches of Saldanha), seems amply sufficient for the supply of a large fleet of ships, if collected and brought to the bay in pipes, the expense of which could not exceed a few thousand pounds.

Hence the objection of want of water might, apparently, at little expense, be completely obviated; and, besides, from the nature of this part of the coast, it is also more than probable that fresh water is to be found in the sand, a very few feet below the surface; but, with the usual apathy and indifference attached to every thing appertaining to this colony, no attempt appears ever to have been made to ascertain so important a fact, or any steps hitherto taken to form on this spot a naval establishment, for which it seems so admirably adapted.

The late discovery of the fertilising properties of guano, gave, some four or five years back, a temporary importance to Saldanha Bay. This substance, the deposit during ages, of the myriads of birds of the penguin and gannet tribes, indigenous to this part of the world, was first exported from Ichaboe, a small island further up the coast, in about 26 deg. of south latitude. The great demand of the article, however, soon exhausting the supply, Saldanha Bay was next frequented for the same purpose, and as many as a hundred and fifty ships, some of them of a thousand tons, are said to have been here at the same time, taking in cargoes of this material.

The guano, which, to the depth of twenty and thirty feet, covered the small rocky islands in the bay, was farmed out by government at il. sterling per ton ; the principal supply appears to have been found on the rock of Maleassen, or Malagasen, at the northern entrance of the bay, on the centre of which a flag-staff was planted; lines were then drawn from this to the circumference of the island, to partition it off in so many portions, like slices of a plum-cake, of which each was appropriated to a particular vessel, whose crew pitched tents, erected scaffoldings, and continued for weeks together the process of shipping off the odoriferous surface of the island, no doubt much to the astonishment and dismay of its winged inhabitants, the penguins and gannets, who would willingly have dispensed with the kind ofhces of such unceremonious scavengers.

* Barrow, vol. ii., 262.

Whilst these undertakings were in progress, Maleassen presented all the life and bustle of a fair, and that of rather the “ Donnybrook” species. The crews from the different ships here set up huts, pitched tents, and erected scaffoldings on the spots, where they were respectively to commence operations. Above these nautical encampments, formed of sails and tarpaulins, thrown over spars and yards, now floated gay banners, labelled with the several appellations bestowed upon them, such as “Wapping,” “ London Docks," “Sheerness,” and other“ neat and appropriate mottoes.”

Next came sutlers and spirit venders from the Cape, who, as may easily be imagined, reaped an abundant harvest on such ground, where scenes of drunkenness and insubordination ensued, followed by blows and bloodshed ; the ship officers could no longer venture amongst these lawless crews, as on so doing they were invariably repulsed with volleys of guano, pelted with dead penguins and gannets, and threatened with still worse treatment; in short, things got at length to such a pass, that one of her Majesty's ships was ordered round from Simon's Bay, to restore something like order and regularity in this riotous settlement.

This once effected, the guano was rapidly cleared away in immense quantities ; government is said, by disposing of it at 20s. a ton, to have realised upwards of 200,0001., and the profits of the speculators were also enormous. It was sent to all parts of the world, and even at the Cape as much as 6l. per ton was not unfrequently given, for what was considered this universal fertiliser; in short, for a time nothing was heard of but “guano,” and although its oleaginous nature certainly succeeds in some soils, it may be observed that the potatoe disease, hitherto unknown, was coeval with its introduction as a manure. How far this hypothesis may be correct, would perhaps be worthy the investigation of our agricultural societies.

During these extensive guano operations Saldanha Bay became a lively mart, where, as before observed, speculators of all kinds resorted from Cape Town. Cattle, provisions, wine, spirits, and wares of every sort made their way by sea and by land to this hitherto secluded and nearly unknown spot; a son of Esculapius even came on “spec," and undertook the wholesale cure of broken pates and bloody noses, at the rate of 5l. per ship.

His avocation was not, however, confined to these immediate effects of drunken brawls, for whether resulting from the disorderly lives led by the sailors-to the inordinate use of ardent spirits-to feeding on salt provisions—to the noisome effluvium of the guano,-or some other unknown cause, scurvy and dysentery soon broke out to a fearful extent, whilst other dangerous symptoms manifested themselves in profuse bleedings from the nose and

eyes, * and Saldanha became,—in every sense of the word, -a regular "sick bay."

The symptoms last-mentioned, were, probably, caused by the quantities of ammonia contained in the guano ; large lumps of this substance being often found embedded many feet below the surface, whilst layers of mummied penguins and gannets were frequently turned up in a high state of preservation, and, strange to say-a human body, equally well preserved, was likewise discovered.

Le Vaillant, who visited this part of the world in 1781, states that the captain of a Danish ship was interred many years before, on one of the

* The author was assured of this fact by an eye-witness, who attributed it to the exhalation of ammonia consequent on disturbing the beds of guano.

« PreviousContinue »