Lost Ships and Lonely Seas/Chapter 4
THE WRECK OF THE BLENDEN HALL, EAST INDIAMAN
IN this harassing modern age of a world turned upside down and bedeviled with one more problem after another, fancy turns with fond regret to those lucky sailormen who lingered on little, sea-girt isles and lorded it as monarchs of all they surveyed. Many an old forecastle had a [[Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)|], hairy and brown and tattooed, who could spin strange yarns of years serenely passed among the untutored natives of the Indian Ocean or the South Seas. Now and then one of them had lived in more solitary fashion on some remote, unpeopled strand, a hermit cast up by the sea, and was actually contented because he had freed himself of the tyranny of bosses and wages and trousers and all the other shackles of civilization.
Alas! there are no more realms like these. The wireless mast lifts above the palm-trees, and the steamer whistle blows to recall the tourists from the beaches where the trade-winds sweep. There are still some very lonely places on the watery globe, however, and one of them is the tiny group of three volcanic islands in the South Atlantic which is known as Tristan da Cunha. These bleak rocks lie two thousand miles west of the Cape of Good Hope and four thousand miles to the northeast of Cape Horn. They loom abruptly from a tempestuous ocean, which lashes the stark, black cliffs, and there are no harbors, only an occasional fringe of beach a few yards wide.
Tristan, the largest of the group, lifts a snow-clad peak almost eight thousand feet above the sea as a warning to mariners to steer wide of the cruel reefs. It has a small plateau where green things grow, and living streams and cascades of fresh water. The islands were discovered as early as 1506 by the Portuguese admiral, Tristan da Cunha, and in later years the Dutch navigators and the pioneers of the British East India Company hove to in passing, but it was not thought worth while to hoist a flag over the group.
It remained for a Yankee sailor, Jonathan Lambert of Salem, to choose Tristan da Cunha as his abiding-place and to issue a formal proclamation of his sovereignty to the other nations of the world. Said he, "I ground my right and claim on the sure and rational ground of absolute occupancy." This was undeniable, and the British Empire rests upon foundations no more convincing. Jonathan Lambert was of the breed of Salem seafarers who had first carried the American flag to India, Java, Sumatra, and Japan, who opened the trade with the Fiji Islands and Madagascar, who had been the trail-breakers in diverting the commerce of South America and China to Yankee ships. They had sailed where no other merchantmen dared go, they had anchored where no one else dreamed of seeking trade.
It was therefore nothing extraordinary for Jonathan Lambert to tire of roving the wide seas and to set himself up in business as the king of Tristan da Cunha which had neither ruler nor subjects. What his ambitions were and how a melancholy end overtook them is to be found in the sea-journal of Captain John White, who sailed the American brig Franklin out to China in 1819. He wrote:
Another adventurous seaman, Thomas Currie, succeeded to this lonely principality by right of occupation, and was joined by two others. They lived contentedly and raised wheat and oats and pigs until in the War of 1812 the American naval vessels began to use Tristan da Cunha as a base from which to harry British commerce in the South Atlantic. Then Great Britain formally annexed the group, and kept a garrison of a hundred men there for two years.
When the garrison was withdrawn, Corporal William Glass of the Royal Artillery was left behind at his own request, with his wife and children, and two privates decided to join him as the beginnings of a colony. A few other rovers or shipwrecked sailors drifted to Tristan da Cunha from time to time, and they found girls at St. Helena and Cape Town who were willing to marry them, so that there was created a peaceful, unworldly little community on this far-away island over which Corporal William Glass ruled as a wise and benevolent patriarch.
The Blenden Hall was a stout ship bound out from England to Bombay in 1820, an East Indiaman of the stately fleet that flew the house flag of the Honorable Company. Their era was soon to pass, with all its color and romance, the leisurely voyage, the ceremonious formality and discipline, the pleasant sociability. The swifter Yankee merchant ships, hard driven under clouds of cotton duck, used to rush past these jogging East India "tea- wagons," which shortened sail at sunset and snugged down for the night. They carried crews for a man-of-war, what with the midshipmen, the purser, the master-at-arms, the armorer, the calker, the butcher, baker, poulterer, gunner's mates, sail-maker, six officers to assist the commander, and Indian servants to wait on them.
The passengers enjoyed more comfort and luxury in these handsome old sailing ships than the modern reader might suppose. The cabins were much more spacious than the liner's state-rooms of to-day, the saloon was ornate with rugs and teak-wood, with silver plate and the finest napery, and dinner was an elaborate affair, with a band of music, and the commander and the officers in the Company's dress uniform of blue coat and gold buttons, with waistcoats and breeches of buff. Wines, ale, beer, and brandy were served without cost to the passengers, and the large staff of cooks and stewards was able to find in the storerooms and pantries such a varied stock of provisions as beef, pork, bacon, and tongues, bread, cheese, butter, herrings, and salmon, confectionery, oatmeal, oranges, and dried and preserved fruits, while a live cow or two supplied cream for the coffee, and the hen-coops stowed in the long-boat contributed fresh eggs.
The Blenden Hall was commanded by Captain Alexander Greig, a sailor and a gentleman of the old school, who had laid by a comfortable fortune during his long service. The trading ventures and perquisites of the master of an East Indiaman often yielded an income which a modern bank president would view with profound respect. The captain's son, young Alexander Greig, sailed as a passenger on this last voyage of the Blenden Hall. He was a high-spirited lad, bound out to join the army in India, and life was one zestful adventure after another. The modern youngster may well envy him his luck in being shipwrecked on a desert island, where he wrote a diary, using penguin's blood for ink and quill feathers for pens.
If the tale were fiction instead of fact, the beginning could be no more auspiciously romantic. Captain Greig and his son left their English country home in their "travelling carriage" for the journey to Gravesend to join the ship. While crossing Bexley Heath they made their pistols ready, for the stretch of road was notorious for highwaymen, and as young Alexander Greig enjoy ably tells us:
I soon observed that my father's attention had been attracted by two horsemen riding across the Heath at full gallop, and notwithstanding the postilion was evidently exerting himself to outstrip our pursuers, they appeared to gain fast upon us. And in fifteen minutes they called loudly to him to stop, one of them at the same time discharging a pistol to bring us to. My father, after urging the postilion to drive faster (and we seemed then almost to fly across the Heath) told me to be prepared to receive the man on the left, "for," said he, "we will give them a warm reception, at any rate."
I was just about to follow his advice when I fancied that the men allowed us to gain ground and were out of pistol-shot, as I could see them curbing their horses while they discussed the prudence of keeping up the pursuit. It was fortunate for them that they did so, for one of them would have received the contents of my Joe Manton, as I was resolved not to fire till he came so close to the carriage that I could make sure of my man.
At the next tavern they described the adventure, and when young Greig mentioned that one of the rascals wore a red waistcoat with white stripes, the landlord exclaimed:
"Jem Turner, by the Lord Harry! Aye, as sure as fate! There is two hundred pounds reward for him, dead or alive. The boldest rascal that rides the Heath!"
Captain Greig concluded, no doubt, that he was safer at sea again. The Blenden Hall was ready to sail, and several of her passengers came on board at Gravesend, while the others were taken on from Deal while the ship tarried in the Downs. Sixteen in all were of a social station which permitted them to meet at the cuddy table for dinner while the ship's band played "The Roast Beef of Old England" and Captain Greig pledged their health in good Madeira. With a most precocious taste for gossip, young Greig managed to portray his fellow-voyagers in an intimate manner that would be hard to match in the true tales of the sea.
It is just as well to let you gain some slight acquaintance with them before the curtain rises on the tragedy of the shipwreck. The most conspicuous figure was Mrs. Lock, wife of a commodore somewhere on foreign service. She was very fat, with a hurricane of a temper, and of mixed blood in which the tar brush was undeniable. Her English was badly broken, and her manners were startling. She had been the commodore's cook in his Indian bungalow, so the rumor ran, until for reasons inscrutable he decided to marry her. Such a person was enough to set the ship's society by the ears. Social caste and station were matters of immense importance. The emotions of Dr. Law, a fussy old bachelor of a half-pay naval surgeon, were quite beyond words, although he was heard to mutter:
"A vulgar black woman, by Jove! And, damme, she flung her arms around me when she was taken seasick at table."
There was also consternation among such exclusive persons as Captain Miles, and six assistant surgeons in the Honorable Company's military service. Major Reid of the Poonah Auxiliary Forces, and Quartermaster Hormby and his lady, of his Majesty's foot. The dignified commander of the Blenden Hall felt it necessary to explain that passage for the chocolate-hued spouse of the erring commodore had been obtained under false pretenses. As if this were not enough, another social shock was in store.
Lieutenant Painter, a bluff, good-humored naval man, had come on board at Gravesend. While the ship was anchored in the Downs, he was one of the passengers who asked the captain to set them ashore in the cutter for a stroll in Deal. When they returned to the boat. Lieutenant Painter was missing. Nothing whatever was heard of him for two days, and Captain Greig felt seriously alarmed. Then a boatman brought off a letter in which the gallant lieutenant explained that he had been
most actively engaged not only in beginning but in finishing a courtship and that it was his intention to join the ship before dinner when he would do himself the honor to introduce Mrs. Painter to the captain and passengers. He requested that a larger cabin could be prepared, in which he could "stow away his better half."
There was great excitement and curiosity in the cuddy of the Blenden Hall as the dinner-hour drew near. The impetuous romance of the brisk Lieutenant Painter was sensational. At length a boat was pulled alongside, and a chair rigged and lowered from the lofty deck. The boatswain piped, and the lovely burden was safely hoisted to the poop, followed by the beaming lieutenant, who scrambled up the gangway. First impressions were favorable. The bride was young and handsome. Her physical charms were so robust, however, that she stood a foot taller than her bantam of a husband, and the audience was amused when she grasped his arm and heartily exclaimed:
"Come, little Painter, let me see this fine cabin of yours."
It was soon perceived that the vigorous Mrs. Painter was not a lady. The dreadful truth was not revealed, however, until a grizzled Deal boatman was discovered lingering at the gangway. When one of the mates asked him his errand, he answered:
"Why, I only want to say goodbye to my gel. Bet, but I suppose the gold-buttoned swab of a leftenant has turned her 'ead. Blowed if I reckoned my own darter 'ud forget me."
Hiding in her cabin, the daughter wished to avoid such a farewell scene, but she could hear the old man ramble on:
"She 'as no occasion to feel ashamed of her father. I've been a Deal boatman these fifty years and brought up a large family respectably, as Captain Greig well knows."
At this the emotional Mrs. Painter rushed on deck to embrace her humble sire and weep in his gray whiskers, a scene which the fastidious passengers found too painful to witness. Henceforth, through varied scenes of shipwreck and suffering, the dominant figures were to be the youthful, upstanding Mrs. Painter and the dusky and corpulent Mrs. Lock, heroines of two rash marriages, and foreordained to hate each other with a ferocity which not even the daily fear of death could diminish. In the presence of such protagonists as these, the ship's company was like a Greek chorus. There was something almost superb in such a feminine feud. It was no peevish quarrel over the tea-cups. Moreover, it could have no dull moments, because both women had vocabularies of singular force and emphasis. The forecastle of the Blenden Hall could do no better in its most lurid moments.
It began with an affectionate intimacy, then squalls and reconciliations, while the stately East Indiaman jogged to the southward and the band played on deck for dancing after dinner. How far these two stormy women were responsible must be left to conjecture, but there seems to have been a vast deal of squabbling and bad blood among the passengers, as indicated by the following entry in the journal of young Alexander Greig, the captain's son:
There was an occasional diversion which patched up a truce, such as meeting with an armed brig which was suspected to be a pirate. The chief officer, in the mizzen-rigging with a telescope, shouted down that the brig was cleared for action. The second mate rushed forward and yelled to the boatswain to pipe all hands on deck. The gunner served out pistols and cutlasses to the seamen and the passengers, boarding-pikes were stacked along the heavy bulwarks, and the battery of six eighteen-pounders was loaded with grape and canister. Things looked even more serious when the brig hauled down a British ensign and tacked to get the weather gage of the East Indiaman.
Some of the passengers were frightened, and others professed an eagerness to engage in a "set-to." Dr. Law, the half-pay naval surgeon, strode the deck with a drawn sword. He was filled with valor and Scotch whisky, and offered to wager any man a hundred guineas that he would be the first to board the enemy. Mrs. Commodore Lock waddled about uttering loud lamentations, and vowed that a friend of hers had been eaten alive by pirates. Nightfall closed down, however, before the brig could overtake the Blenden Hall, which surged before the wind with studding-sails spread.
Captain Greig was in some doubt as to his reckoning, because of thick weather, when the ship had entered the lonely expanse of the South Atlantic, and he therefore steered for a sight of Tristan da Cunha in order to make certain of his position. He proceeded cautiously, but soon after breakfast, on July 23, 1820, breakers were descried close at hand. The wind died, and the ship was drifting. Anchors were let go, but the water was too deep to find holding-ground, and a dense fog obscured the sea. The ship struck in breakers so violent that the decks were swept, the boats smashed, and the houses filled with water. The masts were promptly cut away, but the Blenden Hall was rapidly pounding to death with a broken back. All hands rushed forward and crowded upon the forecastle just before the rest of the ship was wrenched asunder and floated away.
Two seamen had been killed by falling spars, but all the rest of the ship's company, eighty souls of them, were alive and praying for rescue. After several hours of misery, a few sailors managed to knock a raft together and so reached the shore, which had disclosed itself as frightfully forbidding and desolate. The ship had been wrecked among the reefs of Inaccessible Island, one of the Tristan da Cunha group. By a sort of miracle the bow of the ship finally detached itself from among the rocks and washed toward the tiny strip of beach. Clinging to the stout timbers of the forecastle, all the survivors were safely delivered from the terrors of the sea.
Through the first night they could only shiver in the rain and wonder what fate had befallen them. At dawn they began to explore the island, which appeared to be no more than a gigantic rock, black and savage, which towered into the clouds. Fresh water was found, but hunger menaced them. The first bit of flotsam from the wreck was a case of "Hibbert's Celebrated Bottled Porter," which was a beverage with a kick to it, and for the moment life looked not quite so dismal. On the beach were huge sea-lions, creatures twenty feet in length, but there was no way to slay and use them for food. Many sea-birds were killed with clubs and eaten raw, which postponed famine for the time.
And now there floated ashore bales of red broadcloth, which was promptly cut up for clothing. It was grotesque to see the sailors and passengers parading in gorgeous tunics and robes of crimson, with white turbans fashioned from bolts of muslin. With bamboo-poles, also washed from the ship, Captain Greig set his men to making tents for the women. There was very little material, however, and most of the people sat around in a sort of wretched stupor, drenched, benumbed, hopeless. Several barrels of strong liquors came rolling in with the surf, and the sailors, of course, drank all they could hold. One of them, an old barnacle named John Dulliver, showed a streak of marked sagacity. After tapping a barrel of Holland gin and guzzling to the limit of his stowage space, he stove in one end, emptied the barrel, and crawled snugly into it to slumber. This seemed such a brilliant notion that as fast as the ship's water-barrels drifted ashore they were tenanted by castaways who resembled so many hermit-crabs.
For six days the party forlornly existed in continuous rain, with no means of kindling a fire, and eating raw pork that was cast up by the sea and such birds as they could obtain. Then a case of surgical instruments was found on the beach, and it contained a providential flint and steel. Fire was made, and spears were contrived of poles, with knives lashed to them, so that the monstrous sea-lions could be killed and used for food. There were millions of penguins, and their eggs could be had for the gathering. It was hard, revolting fare, but other castaways had lived for months and even years on food no worse, and the horrors of famine were averted.
Captain Greig was taken ill, and his authority therefore amounted to little. His officers were not the men for such a crisis as this, and they do not appear to have been able to master it. The sailors were insolent and lazy, no doubt of it, and young Mr. Greig devotes many pages of his diary to abuse of them. It is quite evident, however, that the officers and passengers felt themselves to be superior beings and expected the sailors to wait on them as menials. In such a situation as this one man was as good as another, and the doctrines of caste and rank properly belonged in the discard. It was rather pitiful and absurd, as one catches glimpses of it in the ingenuous narrative of the very young Mr. Greig.
Inaccessible Island was properly named, and one week after another passed without the sight of a sail or any tangible hope of rescue. Flimsy shelters were contrived, and nobody died of cold or hunger, but they were a gaunt, unkempt company, with much illness among them. Arrayed in their makeshift garments of crimson broadcloth, the camp was more like a travesty than a tragedy. No hardship could dull the militant spirits of Mrs. Commodore Lock and that young and handsome virago, Mrs. Lieutenant Painter. During one of their clashes, which was about to come to blows, the little lieutenant was trying to drag his strapping spouse into their tent while several passengers laid hold of the ponderous Mrs. Lock. Poor Captain Greig was heard to murmur:
"Thank God we have almost no respectable ladies with us to witness such scenes as these!"
Mrs. Lock had two small children with her, and it pleased the fancy of Mrs. Painter to say that, in her opinion, the paternity of the offspring would have been better established if the commodore had offered marriage a few years earlier. Mrs. Painter put it even more forcefully than this. At the deadly insult Mrs. Lock broke out in impassioned accents:
"What you think? That vile hussy of a Painter woman, she say me no Commodore Lock's wife. Me lose my—what you call it—wedding 'tifcate on board ship, so me no have proof now—but when we come to Bombay, my commodore he kicks dirty little Painter out of the service, and me get ten thousand rupees of defamation damage. That Painter woman's father am a common, dirty boatman!"
At this Mrs. Painter, with lofty disdain, let fall the remark: "Behold the she-devil and her two little imps!"
The sailors felt so little respect for the commodore's wife that one of them coarsely observed, within her hearing:
"If we run short of them penguins' eggs. Bill, and there ain't nothin' else to eat, we 'll pop the old girl's young 'uns into the pot for a bit of broth."
This was reported to Captain Greig by the explosive Mrs. Lock, who declared that the sailors had called her names much stronger than "old girl." The chivalrous commander was resolved that no man of his crew should insult a woman and go unpunished, wherefore he mustered the seamen loyal to him, and they maintained order while the boatswain gave the chief offender fifty lashes on the bare back with a rope's-end. The dreary exile was further enlivened by the discovery that Lieutenant Painter's tent had been robbed of jewelry and other valuables. A formal trial was held, with young Alexander Greig as judge and a water-cask as the official bench. A sailor named Joseph Fowler was accused of the theft, and Mrs. Lock surged into the proceedings by announcing that, in her opinion, the relations of Mrs. Painter and this common sailorman had been a public scandal.
"Very ladylike of you, I'm sure, Mrs. Lock," cried Mrs. Painter, "but what could a person expect?"
Such episodes as these were trivial when compared with the tragic problem of survival and es- cape from Inaccessible Island. Exploring parties had climbed the lofty peak, and in clear weather were able to discern the snow-clad summit of the larger island of Tristan, only fifteen miles distant, which was known to be inhabited. It might have been a thousand miles away, however, for the lack of tools and material had discouraged any efforts to build a boat. In a mood of despair a flagstaff was set up on the southwestern promontory, which faced the open ocean, and a bottle tied to it which contained this message:
On the N. W. side of this island are the remaining part of the crew and passengers of the Blenden Hall, wrecked 23rd July, 1821. Should this fall into the hands of the humane, we trust, by the assistance of God, they will do all in their power to relieve us, and the prayers of many unfortunate sufferers will always be for them.
Alexander Greig, Commander.
This was a month after the shipwreck. Another month passed, and the ship's cook, Joseph Nibbs, a colored man, had begun to build a clumsy little cockle-shell which he called a punt. For tools he managed to find a hand-saw, a chisel, a bolt for a hammer, and a heavy iron hinge ground sharp on the rocks for an ax. It seems extraordinary that this enterprise should have been left to a sea-cook, what with the carpenter and all the officers who should have taken the initiative. At any rate, this handy Joseph Nibbs pegged his boat together and went fishing in it. This appears to have shamed the others into activity, and the carpenter set about building a larger boat. It was the heroic cook, however, who decided to risk the voyage to Tristan in his little floating coffin, and his farewell speech was reported as follows:
GOVERNOR GLASS AND HIS RESIDENCE
In the punt with the cook went five volunteers, three able seamen, the gunner, and the sailmaker, but not one of the ship's officers. These six fine fellows were ready to risk their lives for others, but the quarter-deck failed to share in the splendid action. The punt hoisted sail, the cook and his comrades shouted three cheers, and they stood out from the lee of the island to face a heavy sea. This was the last ever seen of them. They must have perished soon after.
The castaways waited week after week, desperately hungry and wholly discouraged. Meanwhile the carpenter had finished his boat, but delayed his voyage until certain of fine weather, and wasted much time in skirting the island in the hope of finding some trace of the cook. It was late in October, almost three months after the loss of the Blenden Hall, before the carpenter attempted to reach Tristan. Nine men were with him, five able seamen, the boatswain, the steward, a boatswain's mate, and a carpenter's mate. Again the list was conspicuous for the absence of an officer.
On the following day two boats were seen approaching Inaccessible Island. They were stanch whale-boats, in one of which was the ruler of Tristan da Cunha, Corporal William Glass, late of the Royal Artillery. He brought provisions and a warm welcome to his kingdom. It was found that more than one trip would be necessary to transport the castaways to Tristan. In the first boat-load were Mrs. Lock and Mrs. Painter, whose animosities were lulled by the blessed fact of rescue. It was an armistice during which they wept on each other's necks and mingled their prayers of thanksgiving while the crew of the Blenden Hall sang "God Save the King."
All hands were safely landed at Tristan where they found a neat hamlet of stone cottages thatched with straw, and green fields of grain and potatoes. Mrs. Glass was the only woman of the colony in which there were five Englishmen and two American sailors. To provide for eighty shipwrecked people severely taxed their resources but the spirit of hospitality was most cordially displayed. The captain and the passengers signed an agreement to pay Governor Glass at the rate of two shillings and sixpence per day for board and lodging, which was no more than fair, but nothing was said about the sailors. They were expected to pay for their keep by working as farm-hands. This rubbed the long-suffering tars the wrong way, and as the diary explains it:
"The passengers walking about at their ease was a sight to which Jack could not long submit; at last they all struck, declaring that they would not work unless their 'mortal enemies' were compelled to do the same. Upon this, the captain begged Governor Glass to be firm with them and on no account to serve out any provisions unless they returned to their duty. Consequently several meetings with a great deal of ill feeling took place upon the subject, and when prayers were read the following Sunday at Government House, every sailor absented himself."
Food was refused the striking seamen until they threatened to break into the potato sheds and then burn the settlement. The boatswain and his lash tamed the mutiny after Joseph Fowler had been tied up and his back cut to ribbons with nine dozen blows of the rope's-end. After this the seamen marched off to another part of the island and fed themselves by fishing and hunting wild goats and pigs. To their simple minds there was no good reason why they should sweat at building stone walls and digging potatoes while Captain Miles and the six assistant surgeons of the Honorable East India Company, Major Reid of the Poonah Auxiliary Forces, and Quartermaster Hormby of his Majesty's foot were strolling about in idleness.
For lack of something better to do, the passengers began to find fault with the food supplied by the worthy Governor Glass, and this caused much difficulty and several formal conferences and protests. He promised to do better, and honestly tried to, bearing the situation with unfailing good humor and courtesy. If the rations were scrimped, it was no doubt because he feared he might be eaten out of house and home and left without reserve supplies.
On New Year's day there was a notable celebration, when the four children of the Glass family were formally christened by Dr. Hatch of the Blenden Hall, who had taken holy orders in his youth. Governor Glass wore his scarlet uniform of the Royal Artillery, "Mrs. Lock stuck so many white feathers in her hair that it resembled a cauliflower, while Mrs. Painter sported a white turban of such ample dimensions that the Grand Sultan himself might have envied her." Bonfires blazed, flags flew from every roof, and the islanders were dressed in their best.
On January 9 the English merchant ship Nerinae hove to off Tristan da Cunha to fill her water-casks. She was bound from Buenos Aires to Table Bay with a hold filled with live mules. Uncomfortable shipmates these, but the people of the Blenden Hall were not in a captious mood. They were taken on board, and sailed away from Governor Glass after spending three months with him, and it is to be fancied that he felt no profound regrets.
A bit of romance touched the parting scenes. The night before the Nerinae sailed from Tristan, the pretty maid servant of Mrs. Lock slipped ashore in a boat, with what few belongings she had, and joined her sailor sweetheart, Stephen White, who had decided to remain behind on the island. This Peggy was a Portuguese half-caste from Madras who is referred to in the diary as a "female attendant." Seaman White is called a worthless fellow, but this may be taken for what it is worth. The important fact is that he had found a sweetheart during the weary exile on Inaccessible Island and that they were resolved to stay together and let the rest of the world go hang. Governor Glass was quite competent to unite them in the bonds of a marriage that was proper in the sight of God.
There is one final glimpse of Mrs. Lock and Mrs. Painter shortly before the good ship Nerinae, with her freightage of mules and castaways, anchored in Table Bay.
The two ladies having for a considerable time been very quiet, Captain Greig thought he would make another trial at reconciliation, and begged Mrs. Lock to shake hands with Mrs. Painter which the latter was willing to do, but the commodore's wife declared, "Me do anything Captain like, but me will bring action for defamation against little Painter and his damn wife, please God me ever get back to Bombay."
Mrs. Lock used to say that she fully expected to find her dear commodore dead with grief. Mrs. Painter repeatedly retorted that it was far more likely she would find him with another wife, but she might make up her mind it would not be a black one.
Thus concludes the story of the Blenden Hall, East Indiaman, but it is so interwoven with the fortunes of Tristan da Cunha and its colonists that further tidings of them may prove interesting. In 1824, four years after the wreck of the East Indiaman, an author and artist of New Zealand, Augustus Earle, was accidentally marooned at Tristan, and stayed six months as the guest of Governor Glass before another ship touched there. He had sailed from Rio for Cape Town in a sloop, the Duke of Gloucester, which passed so close to the island in calm weather that the thrifty skipper concluded to land and buy a few tons of potatoes for the Cape market.
The artistic passenger went ashore to stroll about with dog and gun while the sailors were loading potatoes into the boat. A sudden storm swept the sea, and the boat was caught offshore, but managed to reach the sloop, which was driven far from the island and gave up trying to beat back to it. The skipper was a practical man and it was foolish to delay the voyage for such a useless creature as an author and artist. Mr. Augustus Earle was compelled to make the best of the awkward situation, and he seems to have enjoyed his protracted visit of half a year.
The village then consisted of five or six thatched cottages "which had an air of comfort, cleanliness, and plenty truly English." The young sailor Stephen White, whom the Blenden Hall had left behind with his precious Peggy, was still happy in his bargain, and their babies were playing with the lusty little flock of the Glass family. The island was no longer a hermit's retreat. The marooned artist noted that "children there were in abundance, and just one year older than another." Small wonder that he saw little of the two women, who were fully occupied with their domestic duties.The worthy Governor William Glass had a curious yarn to tell of that first ruler of the island, Jonathan Lambert of Salem, who had published his grandiose proclamations and whose ambitious dreams were so soon eclipsed. The accepted account is that he was drowned while out in his boat, but the British garrison had found on the island a man who said he had been there with Lambert and that he suspected another companion of the first king of Tristan da Cunha of having made away with him in order to secure his hoard of gold. Afraid of discovery, the regicide had fled the island, leaving the treasure behind him.
The ingenious inventor of this narrative had professed to know where the treasure was buried,
and that he would some day reveal it to the man of the garrison who pleased him most, thus insuring good treatment from the men, each hoping to be favored. But one day after drinking immoderately of liquor he was taken suddenly ill and expired before he could explain to his comrades where his treasure was concealed.
At any rate, the story sufficed to supply the imaginative vagabond with free rum and tobacco, which, no doubt, was the end in view.
Augustus Earle hunted the wild goats, which had multiplied on the mountain-slopes, and he has left us this pleasing picture of the simple and righteous existence led by these dwellers on remote Tristan da Cunha:
Governor Glass informed me that the last time they had ascended the mountain after goats, one of the party got too close to the precipice and fell down several hundred feet. They found the corpse next day in a miserably mangled state. They interred it in the garden near their settlement and placed at the head of the grave a board with his name and age, together with an account of the accident which caused his death, and the remark that it happened on a Sunday, a dreadful warning to Sabbath-breakers. The people all say they will nevermore ascend the mountain on that sacred day. Indeed, from all I have seen of them, they pay every respect to the duties of religion that lies in their power.
My clothes beginning to wear out, my kind host, who was an excellent tailor, made me a pair of trousers consisting of sail cloth and the rear of dried goat's skin, the hair outside, which they all assured me would be very convenient in sliding down the mountains. I laughed heartily when I first sported this Robinson Crusoe habiliment. "Never mind how you look, sir," said my kind host, "His Majesty himself, God bless him, if he had been left here as you were, could look no better."
Governor William Glass ruled over the island for thirty-five years, until his death in 1853. By that time the population had increased to a hundred souls, and a flourishing trade was carried on in provisioning the fleet of American whalers out of New Bedford and Nantucket which cruised in those waters. A few years later, twenty-five of the younger men and women emigrated to the United States, stirred by a natural ambition to see more of the world. At the death of Governor Glass, an old man-of-war's-man, William Cotton, who had been for three years one of Napoleon's guards at St. Helena, became the head of the community.
To-day the settlement consists of a hundred people or so, most of them of the old British strain, and many of them descended from the families of Corporal William Glass of the Royal Artillery and the young seaman Stephen White and his devoted Peggy who were wrecked in the Blenden Hall, East Indiaman, a century ago. They manage their own affairs without any written laws, and are described by recent visitors as religious, hospitable to strangers, industrious, healthy, and long-lived.
The British Government has kept a paternal eye on them, and from time to time a minister of the Church of England has served in the stone chapel and the trim little school-house. Their worldly wealth is in cattle, sheep, apple and peach orchards, and they are unvexed by politics, the League of Nations, or the social unrest. Enviable people of Tristan da Cunha! And peace to the memories of old William Glass and Jonathan Lambert, and the faithful sweethearts of the stately old Blenden Hall!