Two Years Before the Mast
By Richard Henry Dana

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Chapter XXIX. Loading For Home–A Surprise–Last of An Old Friend–The Last Hide–A Hard Case–Up Anchor, For Home!–Homeward Bound

We turned-in early, knowing that we might expect an early call; and sure enough, before the stars had quite faded, “All hands ahoy!" and we were turned-to, heaving out ballast. A regulation of the port forbids any ballast to be thrown overboard; accordingly, our long-boat was lined inside with rough boards and brought alongside the gangway, but where one tub-full went into the boat, twenty went overboard. This is done by every vessel, for the ballast can make but little difference in the channel, and it saves more than a week of labor, which would be spent in loading the boats, rowing them to the point, and unloading them. When any people from the Presidio were on board, the boat was hauled up and ballast thrown in; but when the coast was clear, she was dropped astern again, and the ballast fell overboard. This is one of those petty frauds which every vessel practises in ports of inferior foreign nations, and which are lost sight of, among the countless deeds of greater weight which are hardly less common. Fortunately a sailor, not being a free agent in work aboard ship, is not accountable; yet the fact of being constantly employed, without thought, in such things, begets an indifference to the rights of others.

Friday, and a part of Saturday, we were engaged in this work, until we had thrown out all but what we wanted under our cargo on the passage home; when, as the next day was Sunday, and a good day for smoking ship, we cleared everything out of the cabin and forecastle, made a slow fire of charcoal, birch bark, brimstone, and other matters, on the ballast in the bottom of the hold, calked up the hatches and every open seam, and pasted over the cracks of the windows, and the slides of the scuttles, and companionway. Wherever smoke was seen coming out, we calked and pasted, and, so far as we could, made the ship smoke tight. The captain and officers slept under the awning which was spread over the quarter-deck; and we stowed ourselves away under an old studding-sail, which we drew over one side of the forecastle. The next day, from fear that something might happen, orders were given for no one to leave the ship, and, as the decks were lumbered up with everything, we could not wash them down, so we had nothing to do, all day long. Unfortunately, our books were where we could not get at them, and we were turning about for something to do, when one man recollected a book he had left in the galley. He went after it, and it proved to be Woodstock. This was a great windfall, and as all could not read it at once, I, being the scholar of the company, was appointed reader. I got a knot of six or eight about me, and no one could have had a more attentive audience. Some laughed at the “scholars,” and went over the other side of the forecastle, to work, and spin their yarns; but I carried the day, and had the cream of the crew for my hearers. Many of the reflections, and the political parts, I omitted, but all the narrative they were delighted with; especially the descriptions of the Puritans, and the sermons and harangues of the Round-head soldiers. The gallantry of Charles, Dr. Radcliffe’s plots, the knavery of “trusty Tompkins,"–in fact, every part seemed to chain their attention. Many things which, while I was reading, I had a misgiving about, thinking them above their capacity, I was surprised to find them enter into completely.

I read nearly all day, until sundown; when, as soon as supper was over, as I had nearly finished, they got a light from the galley; and by skipping what was less interesting, I carried them through to the marriage of Everard, and the restoration of Charles the Second, before eight o’clock.

The next morning, we took the battens from the hatches, and opened the ship. A few stifled rats were found; and what bugs, cockroaches, fleas, and other vermin, there might have been on board, must have unrove their life-lines before the hatches were opened. The ship being now ready, we covered the bottom of the hold over, fore and aft, with dried brush for dunnage, and having levelled everything away, we were ready to take in our cargo. All the hides that had been collected since the California left the coast, (a little more than two years,) amounting to about forty thousand, were cured, dried, and stowed away in the house, waiting for our good ship to take them to Boston.

Now began the operation of taking in our cargo, which kept us hard at work, from the grey of the morning till star-light, for six weeks, with the exception of Sundays, and of just time to swallow our meals. To carry the work on quicker, a division of labor was made. Two men threw the hides down from the piles in the house, two more picked them up and put them on a long horizontal pole, raised a few feet from the ground, where they were beaten, by two more, with flails, somewhat like those used in threshing wheat. When beaten, they were taken from this pole by two more, and placed upon a platform of boards; and ten or a dozen men, with their trowsers rolled up, were constantly going, back and forth, from the platform to the boat, which was kept off where she would just float, with the hides upon their heads. The throwing the hides upon the pole was the most difficult work, and required a sleight of hand which was only to be got by long practice. As I was known for a hide-curer, this post was assigned to me, and I continued at it for six or eight days, tossing, in that time, from eight to ten thousand hides, until my wrists became so lame that I gave in; and was transferred to the gang that was employed in filling the boats, where I remained for the rest of the time. As we were obliged to carry the hides on our heads from fear of their getting wet, we each had a piece of sheepskin sewed into the inside of our hats, with the wool next to our heads, and thus were able to bear the weight, day after day, which would otherwise have soon worn off our hair, and borne hard upon our skulls. Upon the whole, ours was the best berth; for though the water was nipping cold, early in the morning and late at night, and being so continually wet was rather an exposure, yet we got rid of the constant dust and dirt from the beating of the hides, and being all of us young and hearty, did not mind the exposure. The older men of the crew, whom it would have been dangerous to have kept in the water, remained on board with the mate, to stow the hides away, as fast as they were brought off by the boats.

We continued at work in this manner until the lower hold was filled to within four feet of the beams, when all hands were called aboard to commence steeving. As this is a peculiar operation, it will require a minute description.

Before stowing the hides, as I have said, the ballast is levelled off, just above the keelson, and then loose dunnage placed upon it, on which the hides rest. The greatest care is used in stowing, to make the ship hold as many hides as possible. It is no mean art, and a man skilled in it is an important character in California. Many a dispute have I heard raging high between professed “beach-combers,” as to whether the hides should be stowed “shingling,” or “back-to-back, and flipper-to-flipper;” upon which point there was an entire and bitter division of sentiment among the savans. We adopted each method at different periods of the stowing, and parties ran high in the forecastle, some siding with “old Bill” in favor of the former, and others scouting him, and relying upon “English Bob" of the Ayacucho, who had been eight years in California, and was willing to risk his life and limb for the latter method. At length a compromise was effected, and a middle course, of shifting the ends and backs at every lay, was adopted, which worked well, and which, though they held it inferior to their own, each party granted was better than that of the other.

Having filled the ship up, in this way, to within four feet of her beams, the process of steeving commenced, by which an hundred hides are got into a place where one could not be forced by hand, and which presses the hides to the utmost, sometimes starting the beams of the ship, resembling in its effects the jack-screws which are used in stowing cotton. Each morning we went ashore, and beat and brought off as many hides as we could steeve in the course of the day, and, after breakfast, went down into the hold, where we remained at work until night. The whole length of the hold, from stem to stern, was floored off level, and we began with raising a pile in the after part, hard against the bulkhead of the run, and filling it up to the beams, crowding in as many as we could by hand and pushing in with oars; when a large “book” was made of from twenty-five to fifty hides, doubled at the backs, and put into one another, like the leaves of a book. An opening was then made between two hides in the pile, and the back of the outside hide of the book inserted. Two long, heavy spars, called steeves, made of the strongest wood, and sharpened off like a wedge at one end, were placed with their wedge ends into the inside of the hide which was the centre of the book, and to the other end of each, straps were fitted, into which large tackles were hooked, composed each of two huge purchase blocks, one hooked to the strap on the end of the steeve, and the other into a dog, fastened into one of the beams, as far aft as it could be got. When this was arranged, and the ways greased upon which the book was to slide, the falls of the tackles were stretched forward, and all hands tallied on, and bowsed away until the book was well entered; when these tackles were nippered, straps and toggles clapped upon the falls, and two more luff tackles hooked on, with dogs, in the same manner; and thus, by luff upon luff, the power was multiplied, until into a pile in which one hide more could not be crowded by hand, an hundred or an hundred and fifty were often driven in by this complication of purchases. When the last luff was hooked on, all hands were called to the rope–cook, steward, and all–and ranging ourselves at the falls, one behind the other, sitting down on the hides, with our heads just even with the beams, we set taught upon the tackles, and striking up a song, and all lying back at the chorus, we bowsed the tackles home, and drove the large books chock in out of sight.

The sailor’s songs for capstans and falls are of a peculiar kind, having a chorus at the end of each line. The burden is usually sung, by one alone, and, at the chorus, all hands join in,–and the louder the noise, the better. With us, the chorus seemed almost to raise the decks of the ship, and might be heard at a great distance, ashore. A song is as necessary to sailors as the drum and fife to a soldier. They can’t pull in time, or pull with a will, without it. Many a time, when a thing goes heavy, with one fellow yo-ho-ing, a lively song, like “Heave, to the girls!” “Nancy oh!” “Jack Cross-tree,” etc., has put life and strength into every arm. We often found a great difference in the effect of the different songs in driving in the hides. Two or three songs would be tried, one after the other; with no effect;–not an inch could be got upon the tackles–when a new song, struck up, seemed to hit the humor of the moment, and drove the tackles “two blocks” at once. “Heave round hearty!” “Captain gone ashore!” and the like, might do for common pulls, but in an emergency, when we wanted a heavy, “raise-the-dead” pull, which should start the beams of the ship, there was nothing like “Time for us to go!” “Round the corner,” or “Hurrah! hurrah! my hearty bullies!”

This was the most lively part of our work. A little boating and beach work in the morning; then twenty or thirty men down in a close hold, where we were obliged to sit down and slide about, passing hides, and rowsing about the great steeves, tackles, and dogs, singing out at the falls, and seeing the ship filling up every day. The work was as hard as it could well be. There was not a moment’s cessation from Monday morning till Saturday night, when we were generally beaten out, and glad to have a full night’s rest, a wash and shift of clothes, and a quiet Sunday. During all this time,–which would have startled Dr. Graham–we lived upon almost nothing but fresh beef; fried beefsteaks, three times a day,–morning, noon, and night. At morning and night we had a quart of tea to each man; and an allowance of about a pound of hard bread a day; but our chief article of food was the beef. A mess, consisting of six men, had a large wooden kid piled up with beefsteaks, cut thick, and fried in fat, with the grease poured over them. Round this we sat, attacking it with our jack-knives and teeth, and with the appetite of young lions, and sent back an empty kid to the galley. This was done three times a day. How many pounds each man ate in a day, I will not attempt to compute. A whole bullock (we ate liver and all) lasted us but four days. Such devouring of flesh, I will venture to say, was seldom known before. What one man ate in a day, over a hearty man’s allowance, would make a Russian’s heart leap into his mouth. Indeed, during all the time we were upon the coast, our principal food was fresh beef, and every man had perfect health; but this was a time of especial devouring; and what we should have done without meat, I cannot tell. Once or twice, when our bullocks failed and we were obliged to make a meal upon dry bread and water, it seemed like feeding upon shavings. Light and dry, feeling unsatisfied, and, at the same time, full, we were glad to see four quarters of a bullock, just killed, swinging from the fore-top. Whatever theories may be started by sedentary men, certainly no men could have gone through more hard work and exposure for sixteen months in more perfect health, and without ailings and failings, than our ship’s crew, let them have lived upon Hygeia’s own baking and dressing.

Friday, April 15th. Arrived, brig Pilgrim, from the windward. It was a sad sight for her crew to see us getting ready to go off the coast, while they, who had been longer on the coast than the Alert, were condemned to another year’s hard service. I spent an evening on board, and found them making the best of the matter, and determined to rough it out as they might; but my friend S––- was determined to go home in the ship, if money or interest could bring it to pass. After considerable negotiating and working, he succeeded in persuading my English friend, Tom Harris,–my companion in the anchor watch–for thirty dollars, some clothes, and an intimation from Captain Faucon that he should want a second mate before the voyage was up, to take his place in the brig as soon as she was ready to go up to windward.

The first opportunity I could get to speak to Captain Faucon, I asked him to step up to the oven and look at Hope, whom he knew well, having had him on board his vessel. He went to see him, but said that he had so little medicine, and expected to be so long on the coast, that he could do nothing for him, but that Captain Arthur would take care of him when he came down in the California, which would be in a week or more. I had been to see Hope the first night after we got into San Diego this last time, and had frequently since spent the early part of a night in the oven. I hardly expected, when I left him to go to windward, to find him alive upon my return. He was certainly as low as he could well be when I left him, and what would be the effect of the medicines that I gave him, I hardly then dared to conjecture. Yet I knew that he must die without them. I was not a little rejoiced, therefore, and relieved, upon our return, to see him decidedly better. The medicines were strong, and took hold and gave a check to the disorder which was destroying him; and, more than that, they had begun the work of exterminating it. I shall never forget the gratitude that he expressed. All the Kanakas attributed his escape solely to my knowledge, and would not be persuaded that I had not all the secrets of the physical system open to me and under my control. My medicines, however, were gone, and no more could be got from the ship, so that his life was left to hang upon the arrival of the California.

Sunday, April 24th. We had now been nearly seven weeks in San Diego, and had taken in the greater part of our cargo, and were looking out, every day, for the arrival of the California, which had our agent on board; when, this afternoon, some Kanakas, who had been over the hill for rabbits and to fight rattlesnakes, came running down the path, singing out, “Kail ho!” with all their might. Mr. H., our third mate, was ashore, and asking them particularly about the size of the sail, etc., and learning that it was “Moku–Nui Moku,” hailed our ship, and said that the California was on the other side of the point. Instantly, all hands were turned up, the bow guns run out and loaded, the ensign and broad pennant set, the yards squared by lifts and braces, and everything got ready to make a good appearance. The instant she showed her nose round the point, we began our salute. She came in under top-gallant sails, clewed up and furled her sails in good order, and came-to, within good swinging distance of us. It being Sunday, and nothing to do, all hands were on the forecastle, criticising the new-comer. She was a good, substantial ship, not quite so long as the Alert, and wall-sided and kettle-bottomed, after the latest fashion of south-shore cotton and sugar wagons; strong, too, and tight, and a good average sailor, but with no pretensions to beauty, and nothing in the style of a “crack ship.” Upon the whole, we were perfectly satisfied that the Alert might hold up her head with a ship twice as smart as she.

At night, some of us got a boat and went on board, and found a large, roomy forecastle, (for she was squarer forward than the Alert,) and a crew of a dozen or fifteen men and boys, sitting around on their chests, smoking and talking, and ready to give a welcome to any of our ship’s company. It was just seven months since they left Boston, which seemed but yesterday to us. Accordingly, we had much to ask, for though we had seen the newspapers that she brought, yet these were the very men who had been in Boston and seen everything with their own eyes. One of the green-hands was a Boston boy, from one of the public schools, and, of course, knew many things which we wished to ask about, and on inquiring the names of our two Boston boys, found that they had been schoolmates of his. Our men had hundreds of questions to ask about Ann street, the boarding-houses, the ships in port, the rate of wages, and other matters.

Among her crew were two English man-of-war’s-men, so that, of course, we soon had music. They sang in the true sailor’s style, and the rest of the crew, which was a remarkably musical one, joined in the choruses. They had many of the latest sailor songs, which had not yet got about among our merchantmen, and which they were very choice of. They began soon after we came on board, and kept it up until after two bells, when the second mate came forward and called “the Alerts away!” Battle-songs, drinking-songs, boat-songs, love-songs, and everything else, they seemed to have a complete assortment of, and I was glad to find that “All in the Downs,” “Poor Tom Bowline," “The Bay of Biscay,” “List, ye Landsmen!” and all those classical songs of the sea, still held their places. In addition to these, they had picked up at the theatres and other places a few songs of a little more genteel cast, which they were very proud of; and I shall never forget hearing an old salt, who had broken his voice by hard drinking on shore, and bellowing from the mast-head in a hundred northwesters, with all manner of ungovernable trills and quavers in the high notes, breaking into a rough falsetto–and in the low ones, growling along like the dying away of the boatswain’s “all hands ahoy!” down the hatch-way, singing, “Oh, no, we never mention him.”

“Perhaps, like me, he struggles with Each feeling of regret; But if he’s loved as I have loved, He never can forget!”

The last line, being the conclusion, he roared out at the top of his voice, breaking each word up into half a dozen syllables. This was very popular, and Jack was called upon every night to give them his “sentimental song.” No one called for it more loudly than I, for the complete absurdity of the execution, and the sailors’ perfect satisfaction in it, were ludicrous beyond measure.

The next day, the California commenced unloading her cargo; and her boats’ crews, in coming and going, sang their boat-songs, keeping time with their oars. This they did all day long for several days, until their hides were all discharged, when a gang of them were sent on board the Alert, to help us steeve our hides. This was a windfall for us, for they had a set of new songs for the capstan and fall, and ours had got nearly worn out by six weeks’ constant use. I have no doubt that this timely reinforcement of songs hastened our work several days.

Our cargo was now nearly all taken in; and my old friend, the Pilgrim, having completed her discharge, unmoored, to set sail the next morning on another long trip to windward. I was just thinking of her hard lot, and congratulating myself upon my escape from her, when I received a summons into the cabin. I went aft, and there found, seated round the cabin table, my own captain, Captain Faucon of the Pilgrim, and Mr. R––-, the agent. Captain T––- turned to me and asked abruptly–

“D––-, do you want to go home in the ship?”

“Certainly, sir,” said I; “I expect to go home in the ship.”

“Then,” said he, “you must get some one to go in your place on board the Pilgrim.”

I was so completely “taken aback” by this sudden intimation, that for a moment I could make no reply. I knew that it would be hopeless to attempt to prevail upon any of the ship’s crew to take twelve months more upon the California in the brig. I knew, too, that Captain T––- had received orders to bring me home in the Alert, and he had told me, when I was at the hide-house, that I was to go home in her; and even if this had not been so, it was cruel to give me no notice of the step they were going to take, until a few hours before the brig would sail. As soon as I had got my wits about me, I put on a bold front, and told him plainly that I had a letter in my chest informing me that he had been written to, by the owners in Boston, to bring me home in the ship, and moreover, that he had told me that I was to go in the ship.

To have this told him, and to be opposed in such a manner, was more than my lord paramount had been used to.

He turned fiercely upon me, and tried to look me down, and face me out of my statement; but finding that that wouldn’t do, and that I was entering upon my defence in such a way as would show to the other two that he was in the wrong,–he changed his ground, and pointed to the shipping papers of the Pilgrim, from which my name had never been erased, and said that there was my name,–that I belonged to her,–that he had an absolute discretionary power,–and, in short, that I must be on board the Pilgrim by the next morning with my chest and hammock, or have some one ready to go in my place, and that he would not hear another word from me. No court or star chamber could proceed more summarily with a poor devil, than this trio was about to do with me; condemning me to a punishment worse than a Botany Bay exile, and to a fate which would alter the whole current of my future life; for two years more in California would have made me a sailor for the rest of my days. I felt all this, and saw the necessity of being determined. I repeated what I had said, and insisted upon my right to return in the ship.

I “raised my arm, and tauld my crack, Before them a’.”

But it would have all availed me nothing, had I been “some poor body,” before this absolute, domineering tribunal. But they saw that I would not go, unless “vi et armis,” and they knew that I had friends and interest enough at home to make them suffer for any injustice they might do me. It was probably this that turned the matter; for the captain changed his tone entirely, and asked me if, in case any one went in my place, I would give him the same sum that S––- gave Harris to exchange with him. I told him that if any one was sent on board the brig, I should pity him, and be willing to help him to that, or almost any amount; but would not speak of it as an exchange.

“Very well,” said he. “Go forward about your business, and send English Ben here to me!”

I went forward with a light heart, but feeling as angry, and as much contempt as I could well contain between my teeth. English Ben was sent aft, and in a few moments came forward, looking as though he had received his sentence to be hung. The captain had told him to get his things ready to go on board the brig the next morning; and that I would give him thirty dollars and a suit of clothes. The hands had “knocked off” for dinner, and were standing about the forecastle, when Ben came forward and told his story. I could see plainly that it made a great excitement, and that, unless I explained the matter to them, the feeling would be turned against me. Ben was a poor English boy, a stranger in Boston, and without friends or money; and being an active, willing lad, and a good sailor for his years, was a general favorite. “Oh, yes!” said the crew, “the captain has let you off, because you are a gentleman’s son, and have got friends, and know the owners; and taken Ben, because he is poor, and has got nobody to say a word for him!” I knew that this was too true to be answered, but I excused myself from any blame, and told them that I had a right to go home, at all events. This pacified them a little, but Jack had got a notion that a poor lad was to be imposed upon, and did not distinguish very clearly; and though I knew that I was in no fault, and, in fact, had barely escaped the grossest injustice, yet I felt that my berth was getting to be a disagreeable one. The notion that I was not “one of them,” which, by a participation in all their labor and hardships, and having no favor shown me, had been laid asleep, was beginning to revive. But far stronger than any feeling for myself, was the pity I felt for the poor lad. He had depended upon going home in the ship; and from Boston, was going immediately to Liverpool, to see his friends. Beside this, having begun the voyage with very few clothes, he had taken up the greater part of his wages in the slop-chest, and it was every day a losing concern to him; and, like all the rest of the crew, he had a hearty hatred of California, and the prospect of eighteen months or two years more of hide-droghing seemed completely to break down his spirit. I had determined not to go myself, happen what would, and I knew that the captain would not dare to attempt to force me. I knew, too, that the two captains had agreed together to get some one, and that unless I could prevail upon somebody to go voluntarily, there would be no help for Ben. From this consideration, though I had said that I would have nothing to do with an exchange, I did my best to get some one to go voluntarily. I offered to give an order upon the owners in Boston for six months’ wages, and also all the clothes, books, and other matters, which I should not want upon the voyage home. When this offer was published in the ship, and the case of poor Ben was set forth in strong colors, several, who would not have dreamed of going themselves, were busy in talking it up to others, who, they thought, might be tempted to accept it; and, at length, one fellow, a harum-scarum lad, whom we called Harry Bluff, and who did not care what country or ship he was in, if he had clothes enough and money enough–partly from pity for Ben, and partly from the thought he should have “cruising money” for the rest of his stay,–came forward, and offered to go and “sling his hammock in the bloody hooker.” Lest his purpose should cool, I signed an order for the sum upon the owners in Boston, gave him all the clothes I could spare, and sent him aft to the captain, to let him know what had been done. The skipper accepted the exchange, and was, doubtless, glad to have it pass off so easily. At the same time he cashed the order, which was endorsed to him,(1)

–––––––- 1. When the crew were paid off in Boston, the owners answered the order, but generously refused to deduct the amount from the pay-roll, saying that the exchange was made under compulsion. They also allowed S––- his exchange money. –––––––-

and the next morning, the lad went aboard the brig, apparently in good spirits, having shaken hands with each of us and wished us a pleasant passage home, jingling the money in his pockets, and calling out, “Never say die, while there’s a shot in the locker.” The same boat carried off Harris, my old watchmate, who had previously made an exchange with my friend S––-.

I was sorry to part with Harris. Nearly two hundred hours (as we had calculated it) had we walked the ship’s deck together, at anchor watch, when all hands were below, and talked over and over every subject which came within the ken of either of us. He gave me a strong gripe with his hand; and I told him, if he came to Boston again, not to fail to find me out, and let me see an old watchmate. The same boat brought on board S––-, my friend, who had begun the voyage with me from Boston, and, like me, was going back to his family and to the society which we had been born and brought up in. We congratulated one another upon finding what we had long talked over and wished for, thus brought about; and none on board the ship were more glad than ourselves to see the old brig standing round the point, under full sail. As she passed abreast of us, we all collected in the waist, and gave her three loud, hearty cheers, waving our hats in the air. Her crew sprang into the rigging and chains, answered us with three as loud, to which we, after the nautical custom, gave one in return. I took my last look of their familiar faces as they got over the rail, and saw the old black cook put his head out of the galley, and wave his cap over his head. The crew flew aloft to loose the top-gallant sails and royals; the two captains waved their hands to one another; and, in ten minutes, we saw the last inch of her white canvas, as she rounded the point.

Relieved as I was to see her well off, (and I felt like one who had just sprung from an iron trap which was closing upon him) I had yet a feeling of regret at taking the last look at the old craft in which I had spent a year, and the first year, of my sailor’s life–which had been my first home in the new world into which I had entered–and with which I had associated so many things,–my first leaving home, my first crossing the equator, Cape Horn, Juan Fernandez, death at sea, and other things, serious and common. Yet, with all this, and the feeling I had for my old shipmates, condemned to another term of California life, the thought that we were done with it, and that one week more would see us on our way to Boston, was a cure for everything.

Friday, May 6th, completed the taking of our cargo, and was a memorable day in our calendar. The time when we were to take in our last hide, we had looked forward to, for sixteen months, as the first bright spot. When the last hide was stowed away, and the hatches calked down, the tarpaulins battened on to them, the long-boat hoisted in and secured, and the decks swept down for the night,–the chief mate sprang upon the top of the long-boat, called all hands into the waist, and giving us a signal by swinging his cap over his head,–we gave three long, loud cheers, which came from the bottom of our hearts, and made the hills and valleys ring again. In a moment, we heard three, in answer, from the California’s crew, who had seen us taking in our long-boat, and–"the cry they heard–its meaning knew.”

The last week, we had been occupied in taking in a supply of wood and water for the passage home, and bringing on board the spare spars, sails, etc. I was sent off with a party of Indians to fill the water-casks, at a spring, about three miles from the shipping, and near the town, and was absent three days, living at the town, and spending the daytime in filling the casks and transporting them on ox-carts to the landing-place, whence they were taken on board by the crew with boats. This being all done with, we gave one day to bending our sails; and at night, every sail, from the courses to the skysails, was bent, and every studding-sail ready for setting.

Before our sailing, an unsuccessful attempt was made by one of the crew of the California to effect an exchange with one of our number. It was a lad, between fifteen and sixteen years of age, who went by the name of the “reefer,” having been a midshipman in an East India Company’s ship. His singular character and story had excited our interest ever since the ship came into the port. He was a delicate, slender little fellow, with a beautiful pearly complexion, regular features, forehead as white as marble, black haired, curling beautifully, rounded, tapering, delicate fingers, small feet, soft voice, gentle manners, and, in fact, every sign of having been well born and bred. At the same time there was something in his expression which showed a slight deficiency of intellect. How great the deficiency was, or what it resulted from; whether he was born so; whether it was the result of disease or accident; or whether, as some said, it was brought on by his distress of mind, during the voyage, I cannot say. From his own account of himself, and from many circumstances which were known in connection with his story, he must have been the son of a man of wealth. His mother was an Italian woman. He was probably a natural son, for in scarcely any other way could the incidents of his early life be accounted for. He said that his parents did not live together, and he seemed to have been ill treated by his father. Though he had been delicately brought up, and indulged in every way, (and he had then with him trinkets which had been given him at home,) yet his education had been sadly neglected; and when only twelve years old, he was sent as midshipman in the Company’s service. His own story was, that he afterwards ran away from home, upon a difficulty which he had with his father, and went to Liverpool, whence he sailed in the ship Rialto, Captain Holmes, for Boston. Captain Holmes endeavored to get him a passage back, but there being no vessel to sail for some time, the boy left him, and went to board at a common sailor’s boarding-house, in Ann street, where he supported himself for a few weeks by selling some of his valuables. At length, according to his own account, being desirous of returning home, he went to a shipping-office, where the shipping articles of the California were open. Upon asking where the ship was going, he was told by the shipping-master that she was bound to California. Not knowing where that was, he told him that he wanted to go to Europe, and asked if California was in Europe. The shipping-master answered him in a way which the boy did not understand, and advised him to ship. The boy signed the articles, received his advance, laid out a little of it in clothes, and spent the rest, and was ready to go on board, when, upon the morning of sailing, he heard that the ship was bound upon the North-west Coast, on a two or three years’ voyage, and was not going to Europe. Frightened at this prospect, he slipped away when the crew was going aboard, wandered up into another part of the town, and spent all the forenoon in straying about the common, and the neighboring streets.

Having no money, and all his clothes and other things being in the chest, on board, and being a stranger, he became tired and hungry, and ventured down toward the shipping, to see if the vessel had sailed. He was just turning the corner of a street, when the shipping-master, who had been in search of him, popped upon him, seized him, and carried him on board. He cried and struggled, and said he did not wish to go in the ship, but the topsails were at the mast-head, the fasts just ready to be cast off, and everything in the hurry and confusion of departure, so that he was hardly noticed; and the few who did inquire about the matter were told that it was merely a boy who had spent his advance and tried to run away. Had the owners of the vessel known anything of the matter, they would have interfered at once; but they either knew nothing of it, or heard, like the rest, that it was only an unruly boy who was sick of his bargain. As soon as the boy found himself actually at sea, and upon a voyage of two or three years in length, his spirits failed him; he refused to work, and became so miserable, that Captain Arthur took him into the cabin, where he assisted the steward, and occasionally pulled and hauled about decks. He was in this capacity when we saw him; and though it was much better for him than the life in the forecastle, and the hard work, watching, and exposure, which his delicate frame could not have borne, yet, to be joined with a black fellow in waiting upon a man whom he probably looked upon as but little, in point of education and manners, above one of his father’s servants, was almost too much for his spirit to bear. Had he entered upon his situation of his own free will, he could have endured it; but to have been deceived, and, in addition to that, forced into it, was intolerable. He made every effort to go home in our ship, but his captain refused to part with him except in the way of exchange, and that he could not effect. If this account of the whole matter, which we had from the boy, and which was confirmed by all the crew, be correct, I cannot understand why Captain Arthur should have refused to let him go, especially being a captain who had the name, not only with that crew, but with all whom he had ever commanded, of an unusually kind-hearted man.

The truth is, the unlimited power which merchant captains have, upon long voyages on strange coasts, takes away a sense of responsibility, and too often, even in men otherwise well-disposed, substitutes a disregard for the rights and feelings of others. The lad was sent on shore to join the gang at the hide-house; from whence, I was afterwards rejoiced to hear, he effected his escape, and went down to Callao in a small Spanish schooner; and from Callao, he probably returned to England.

Soon after the arrival of the California, I spoke to Captain Arthur about Hope; and as he had known him on the voyage before, and was very fond of him, he immediately went to see him, gave him proper medicines, and, under such care, he began rapidly to recover. The Saturday night before our sailing, I spent an hour in the oven, and took leave of my Kanaka friends; and, really, this was the only thing connected with leaving California which was in any way unpleasant. I felt an interest and affection for many of these simple, true-hearted men, such as I never felt before but for a near relation. Hope shook me by the hand, said he should soon be well again, and ready to work for me when I came upon the coast, next voyage, as officer of the ship; and told me not to forget, when I became captain, how to be kind to the sick. Old “Mr. Bingham” and “King Mannini” went down to the boat with me, shook me heartily by the hand, wished us a good voyage, and went back to the oven, chanting one of their deep monotonous songs, the burden of which I gathered to be about us and our voyage.

Sunday, May 8th. This promised to be our last day in California.

Our forty thousand hides, thirty thousand horns, besides several barrels of otter and beaver skins, were all stowed below, and the hatches calked down. All our spare spars were taken on board and lashed; our water-casks secured; and our live stock, consisting of four bullocks, a dozen sheep, a dozen or more pigs, and three or four dozen of poultry, were all stowed away in their different quarters: the bullocks in the long-boat, the sheep in a pen on the fore-hatch, and the pigs in a sty under the bows of the long-boat, and the poultry in their proper coop; and the jolly-boat was full of hay for the sheep and bullocks. Our unusually large cargo, together with the stores for a five months’ voyage, brought the ship channels down into the water. In addition to this, she had been steeved so thoroughly, and was so bound by the compression of her cargo, forced into her by so powerful machinery, that she was like a man in a straight-jacket, and would be but a dull sailer, until she had worked herself loose.

The California had finished discharging her cargo, and was to get under weigh at the same time with us. Having washed down decks and got our breakfast, the two vessels lay side by side, in complete readiness for sea, our ensigns hanging from the peaks, and our tall spars reflected from the glassy surface of the river, which, since sunrise, had been unbroken by a ripple. At length, a few whiffs came across the water, and, by eleven o’clock, the regular north-west wind set steadily in. There was no need of calling all hands, for we had all been hanging about the forecastle the whole forenoon, and were ready for a start upon the first sign of a breeze.

All eyes were aft upon the captain, who was walking the deck, with, every now and then, a look to windward. He made a sign to the mate, who came forward, took his station, deliberately between the knight-heads, cast a glance aloft, and called out, “All hands, lay aloft and loose the sails!” We were half in the rigging before the order came, and never since we left Boston were the gaskets off the yards, and the rigging overhauled, in a shorter time. “All ready forward, sir!"–"All ready the main!"– “Cross-jack yards all ready, sir!"–"Lay down, all hands but one on each yard!” The yard-arm and bunt gaskets were cast off; and each sail hung by the jigger, with one man standing by the tie to let it go. At the same moment that we sprang aloft, a dozen hands sprang into the rigging of the California, and in an instant were all over her yards; and her sails, too, were ready to be dropped at the word. In the mean time our bow gun had been loaded and run out, and its discharge was to be the signal for dropping sails. A cloud of smoke came out of our bows; the echoes of the gun rattled our farewell among the hills of California; and the two ships were covered, from head to foot, with their white canvas. For a few minutes, all was uproar and apparent confusion: men flying about like monkeys in the rigging; ropes and blocks flying; orders given and answered, and the confused noises of men singing out at the ropes. The top-sails came to the mast-heads with “Cheerily, men!” and, in a few minutes, every sail was set; for the wind was light. The head sails were backed, the windlass came round “slip-slap” to the cry of the sailors;–"Hove short, sir,” said the mate;–"Up with him!"–"Aye, aye, sir."–A few hearty and long heaves, and the anchor showed its head. “Hook cat!"–The fall was stretched along the decks; all hands laid hold;–"Hurrah, for the last time,” said the mate; and the anchor came to the cat-head to the tune of “Time for us to go,” with a loud chorus. Everything was done quick, as though it were for the last time. The head yards were filled away, and our ship began to move through the water on her homeward-bound course.

The California had got under weigh at the same moment; and we sailed down the narrow bay abreast and were just off the mouth, and finding ourselves gradually shooting ahead of her, were on the point of giving her three parting cheers, when, suddenly, we found ourselves stopped short, and the California ranging fast ahead of us. A bar stretches across the mouth of the harbor, with water enough to float common vessels, but, being low in the water, and having kept well to leeward, as we were bound to the southward, we had stuck fast, while the California, being light, had floated over.

We kept all sail on, in the hope of forcing over, but failing in this, we hove aback, and lay waiting for the tide, which was on the flood, to take us back into the channel. This was somewhat of a damper to us, and the captain looked not a little mortified and vexed. “This is the same place where the Rosa got ashore," observed the redheaded second mate, most mal-a-propos. A malediction on the Rosa, and him too, was all the answer he got, and he slunk off to leeward. In a few minutes, the force of the wind and the rising of the tide backed us into the stream, and we were on our way to our old anchoring-place, the tide setting swiftly up, and the ship barely manageable, in the light breeze. We came-to, in our old berth, opposite the hide-house, whose inmates were not a little surprised to see us return. We felt as though we were tied to California; and some of the crew swore that they never should get clear of the bloody coast.

In about half an hour, which was near high water, the order was given to man the windlass, and again the anchor was catted; but not a word was said about the last time. The California had come back on finding that we had returned, and was hove-to, waiting for us, off the point. This time we passed the bar safely, and were soon up with the California, who filled away, and kept us company.

She seemed desirous of a trial of speed, and our captain accepted the challenge, although we were loaded down to the bolts of our chain plates, as deep as a sand-barge, and bound so taught with our cargo that we were no more fit for a race than a man in fetters;–while our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the point, the breeze became stiff, and the royal masts bent under our sails, but we would not take them in until we saw three boys spring aloft into the rigging of the California; when they were all furled at once, but with orders to stay aloft at the top-gallant mastheads, and loose them again at the word. It was my duty to furl the fore royal; and while standing by to loose it again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their narrow decks, far below, slanting over by the force of the wind aloft, appeared hardly capable of supporting the great fabrics raised upon them. The California was to windward of us, and had every advantage; yet, while the breeze was stiff, we held our own. As soon as it began to slacken, she ranged a little ahead, and the order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the gaskets were off and the bunt dropped. “Sheet home the fore royal! –Weather sheet’s home!"–"Hoist away, sir!” is bawled from aloft. “Overhaul your clew-lines!” shouts the mate. “Aye, aye, sir, all clear!"–"Taught leech! belay! Well the lee brace; haul taught to windward"–and the royals are set. These brought us up again; but the wind continuing light, the California set hers, and it was soon evident that she was walking away from us. Our captain then hailed, and said that he should keep off to his course; adding–"She isn’t the Alert now. If I had her in your trim, she would have been out of sight by this time.” This was good-naturedly answered from the California, and she braced sharp up, and stood close upon the wind up the coast; while we squared away our yards, and stood before the wind to the south-south-west. The California’s crew manned her weather rigging, waved their hats in the air, and gave up three hearty cheers, which we answered as heartily, and the customary single cheer came back to us from over the water. She stood on her way, doomed to eighteen months’ or two years’ hard service upon that hated coast, while we were making our way to our home, to which every hour and every mile was bringing us nearer.

As soon as we parted company with the California, all hands were sent aloft to set the studding-sails. Booms were rigged out, tacks and halyards rove, sail after sail packed upon her, until every available inch of canvas was spread, that we might not lose a breath of the fair wind. We could now see how much she was cramped and deadened by her cargo; for with a good breeze on her quarter, and every stitch of canvas spread, we could not get more than six knots out of her. She had no more life in her than if she were water-logged. The log was hove several times; but she was doing her best. We had hardly patience with her, but the older sailors said–"Stand by! you’ll see her work herself loose in a week or two, and then she’ll walk up to Cape Horn like a race-horse.”

When all sail had been set, and the decks cleared up, the California was a speck in the horizon, and the coast lay like a low cloud along the north-east. At sunset they were both out of sight, and we were once more upon the ocean where sky and water meet.


Introduction  •  California and her Missions  •  Two Years Before the Mast  •  Chapter I. Departure  •  Chapter II. First Impressions–"Sail Ho!”  •  Chapter III. Ship’s Duties–tropics  •  Chapter IV. A Rogue–trouble On Board–"Land Ho!"–Pompero–Cape Horn  •  Chapter V. Cape Horn–A Visit  •  Chapter VI. Loss of a Man–Superstition  •  Chapter VII. Juan Fernandez–The Pacific  •  Chapter VIII. “Tarring Down"–Daily Life–"Going Aft"–California  •  Chapter IX. California–A South-Easter  •  Chapter X. A South-Easter–Passage Up the Coast  •  Chapter XI. Passage Up the Coast–Monterey  •  Chapter XII. Life At Monterey  •  Chapter XIII. Trading–A British Sailor  •  Chapter XIV. Santa Barbara–Hide-Droghing–Harbor Duties–Discontent–San Pedro  •  Chapter XV. A Flogging–A Night On Shore–The State of Things On Board–San Diego  •  Chapter XVI. Liberty-Day On Shore  •  Chapter XVII. San Diego–A Desertion–San Pedro Again–Beating the Coast  •  Chapter XVIII. Easter Sunday–"Sail Ho!"–Whales–San Juan–Romance of Hide-Droghing–San Diego Again  •  Chapter XIX. The Sandwich Islanders–Hide-Curing–Wood-Cutting–Rattle-Snakes–New-Comers  •  Chapter XX. Leisure–News From Home–"Burning the Water”  •  Chapter XXI. California and Its Inhabitants  •  Chapter XXII. Life On Shore–The Alert  •  Chapter XXIII. New Ship and Shipmates–My Watchmate  •  Chapter XXIV. San Diego Again–A Descent–Hurried Departure–A New Shipmate  •  Chapter XXV. Rumors of War–A Spouter–Slipping For a South-Easter–A Gale  •  Chapter XXVI. San Francisco–Monterey  •  Chapter XXVII. The Sunday Wash-Up–On Shore–A Set-To–A Grandee–"Sail Ho!"–A Fandango  •  Chapter XXVIII. An Old Friend–A Victim–California Rangers–News From Home–Last Looks  •  Chapter XXIX. Loading For Home–A Surprise–Last of An Old Friend–The Last Hide–A Hard Case–Up Anchor, For Home!–Homeward Bound  •  Chapter XXX. Beginning the Long Return Voyage–A Scare  •  Chapter XXXI. Bad Prospects–First Touch of Cape Horn–Icebergs–Temperance Ships–Lying-Up–Ice–Difficulty On Board–Change of Course–Straits of Magellan  •  Chapter XXXII. Ice Again–A Beautiful Afternoon–Cape Horn–"Land Ho!"–Heading For Home  •  Chapter XXXIII. Cracking On–Progress Homeward–A Pleasant Sunday–A Fine Sight–By-Play  •  Chapter XXXIV. Narrow Escapes–The Equator–Tropical Squalls–A Thunder Storm  •  Chapter XXXV. A Double-Reef-Top-Sail Breeze–Scurvy–A Friend in Need–Preparing For Port–The Gulf Stream  •  Chapter XXXVI. Soundings–Sights From Home–Boston Harbor–Leaving the Ship  •  Concluding Chapter  •  Twenty-Four Years After

[Buy at Amazon]
Richard Henry Dana Jr.: Two Years Before the Mast and Other Voyages (Library of America)
By Richard Henry Dana Jr.
At Amazon