In those early days I had already published one little thing ('The
Jumping Frog') in an Eastern paper, but I did not consider that that
counted. In my view, a person who published things in a mere newspaper
could not properly claim recognition as a Literary Person: he must rise
away above that; he must appear in a magazine. He would then be a
Literary Person; also, he would be famous--right away. These two
ambitions were strong upon me. This was in 1866. I prepared my
contribution, and then looked around for the best magazine to go up to
glory in. I selected the most important one in New York. The
contribution was accepted. I signed it 'MARK TWAIN;' for that name had
some currency on the Pacific coast, and it was my idea to spread it all
over the world, now, at this one jump. The article appeared in the
December number, and I sat up a month waiting for the January number; for
that one would contain the year's list of contributors, my name would be
in it, and I should be famous and could give the banquet I was
I did not give the banquet. I had not written the 'MARK TWAIN'
distinctly; it was a fresh name to Eastern printers, and they put it
'Mike Swain' or 'MacSwain,' I do not remember which. At any rate, I was
not celebrated and I did not give the banquet. I was a Literary Person,
but that was all--a buried one; buried alive.
My article was about the burning of the clipper-ship 'Hornet' on the
line, May 3, 1866. There were thirty-one men on board at the time, and I
was in Honolulu when the fifteen lean and ghostly survivors arrived there
after a voyage of forty-three days in an open boat, through the blazing
tropics, on ten days' rations of food. A very remarkable trip; but it
was conducted by a captain who was a remarkable man, otherwise there
would have been no survivors. He was a New Englander of the best
sea-going stock of the old capable times--Captain Josiah Mitchell.
I was in the islands to write letters for the weekly edition of the
Sacramento 'Union,' a rich and influential daily journal which hadn't any
use for them, but could afford to spend twenty dollars a week for
nothing. The proprietors were lovable and well-beloved men: long ago
dead, no doubt, but in me there is at least one person who still holds
them in grateful remembrance; for I dearly wanted to see the islands, and
they listened to me and gave me the opportunity when there was but
slender likelihood that it could profit them in any way.
I had been in the islands several months when the survivors arrived. I
was laid up in my room at the time, and unable to walk. Here was a great
occasion to serve my journal, and I not able to take advantage of it.
Necessarily I was in deep trouble. But by good luck his Excellency Anson
Burlingame was there at the time, on his way to take up his post in
China, where he did such good work for the United States. He came and
put me on a stretcher and had me carried to the hospital where the
shipwrecked men were, and I never needed to ask a question. He attended
to all of that himself, and I had nothing to do but make the notes. It
was like him to take that trouble. He was a great man and a great
American, and it was in his fine nature to come down from his high office
and do a friendly turn whenever he could.
We got through with this work at six in the evening. I took no dinner,
for there was no time to spare if I would beat the other correspondents.
I spent four hours arranging the notes in their proper order, then wrote
all night and beyond it; with this result: that I had a very long and
detailed account of the 'Hornet' episode ready at nine in the morning,
while the other correspondents of the San Francisco journals had nothing
but a brief outline report--for they didn't sit up. The now-and-then
schooner was to sail for San Francisco about nine; when I reached the
dock she was free forward and was just casting off her stern-line. My
fat envelope was thrown by a strong hand, and fell on board all right,
and my victory was a safe thing. All in due time the ship reached San
Francisco, but it was my complete report which made the stir and was
telegraphed to the New York papers, by Mr. Cash; he was in charge of the
Pacific bureau of the 'New York Herald' at the time.
When I returned to California by-and-by, I went up to Sacramento and
presented a bill for general correspondence at twenty dollars a week. It
was paid. Then I presented a bill for 'special' service on the 'Hornet'
matter of three columns of solid nonpareil at a hundred dollars a column.
The cashier didn't faint, but he came rather near it. He sent for the
proprietors, and they came and never uttered a protest. They only
laughed in their jolly fashion, and said it was robbery, but no matter;
it was a grand 'scoop' (the bill or my 'Hornet' report, I didn't know
which): 'Pay it. It's all right.' The best men that ever owned a
The 'Hornet' survivors reached the Sandwich Islands the 15th of June.
They were mere skinny skeletons; their clothes hung limp about them and
fitted them no better than a flag fits the flag-staff in a calm. But
they were well nursed in the hospital; the people of Honolulu kept them
supplied with all the dainties they could need; they gathered strength
fast, and were presently nearly as good as new. Within a fortnight the
most of them took ship for San Francisco; that is, if my dates have not
gone astray in my memory. I went in the same ship, a sailing-vessel.
Captain Mitchell of the 'Hornet' was along; also the only passengers the
'Hornet' had carried. These were two young men from Stamford,
Connecticut--brothers: Samuel and Henry Ferguson. The 'Hornet' was a
clipper of the first class and a fast sailer; the young men's quarters
were roomy and comfortable, and were well stocked with books, and also
with canned meats and fruits to help out the ship-fare with; and when the
ship cleared from New York harbour in the first week of January there was
promise that she would make quick and pleasant work of the fourteen or
fifteen thousand miles in front of her. As soon as the cold latitudes
were left behind and the vessel entered summer weather, the voyage became
a holiday picnic. The ship flew southward under a cloud of sail which
needed no attention, no modifying or change of any kind, for days
together. The young men read, strolled the ample deck, rested and
drowsed in the shade of the canvas, took their meals with the captain;
and when the day was done they played dummy whist with him till bed-time.
After the snow and ice and tempests of the Horn, the ship bowled
northward into summer weather again, and the trip was a picnic once more.
Until the early morning of the 3rd of May. Computed position of the ship
112 degrees 10 minutes longitude, latitude 2 degrees above the equator;
no wind, no sea--dead calm; temperature of the atmosphere, tropical,
blistering, unimaginable by one who has not been roasted in it. There
was a cry of fire. An unfaithful sailor had disobeyed the rules and gone
into the booby-hatch with an open light to draw some varnish from a cask.
The proper result followed, and the vessel's hours were numbered.
There was not much time to spare, but the captain made the most of it.
The three boats were launched--long-boat and two quarter-boats. That the
time was very short and the hurry and excitement considerable is
indicated by the fact that in launching the boats a hole was stove in the
side of one of them by some sort of collision, and an oar driven through
the side of another. The captain's first care was to have four sick
sailors brought up and placed on deck out of harm's way--among them a
'Portyghee.' This man had not done a day's work on the voyage, but had
lain in his hammock four months nursing an abscess. When we were taking
notes in the Honolulu hospital and a sailor told this to Mr. Burlingame,
the third mate, who was lying near, raised his head with an effort, and
in a weak voice made this correction--with solemnity and feeling:
'Raising abscesses! He had a family of them. He done it to keep from
standing his watch.'
Any provisions that lay handy were gathered up by the men and two
passengers and brought and dumped on the deck where the 'Portyghee' lay;
then they ran for more. The sailor who was telling this to Mr.
'We pulled together thirty-two days' rations for the thirty-one men that
The third mate lifted his head again and made another correction--with
'The "Portyghee" et twenty-two of them while he was soldiering there and
nobody noticing. A damned hound.'
The fire spread with great rapidity. The smoke and flame drove the men
back, and they had to stop their incomplete work of fetching provisions,
and take to the boats with only ten days' rations secured.
Each boat had a compass, a quadrant, a copy of Bowditch's 'Navigator,'
and a Nautical Almanac, and the captain's and chief mate's boats had
chronometers. There were thirty-one men all told. The captain took an
account of stock, with the following result: four hams, nearly thirty
pounds of salt pork, half-box of raisins, one hundred pounds of bread,
twelve two-pound cans of oysters, clams, and assorted meats, a keg
containing four pounds of butter, twelve gallons of water in a forty-
gallon 'scuttle-butt', four one-gallon demijohns full of water, three
bottles of brandy (the property of passengers), some pipes, matches, and
a hundred pounds of tobacco. No medicines. Of course the whole party
had to go on short rations at once.
The captain and the two passengers kept diaries. On our voyage to San
Francisco we ran into a calm in the middle of the Pacific, and did not
move a rod during fourteen days; this gave me a chance to copy the
diaries. Samuel Ferguson's is the fullest; I will draw upon it now.
When the following paragraph was written the doomed ship was about one
hundred and twenty days out from port, and all hands were putting in the
lazy time about as usual, as no one was forecasting disaster.
[Diary entry] May 2. Latitude 1 degree 28 minutes N., longitude 111
degrees 38 minutes W. Another hot and sluggish day; at one time,
however, the clouds promised wind, and there came a slight breeze--
just enough to keep us going. The only thing to chronicle to-day is
the quantities of fish about; nine bonitos were caught this
forenoon, and some large albacores seen. After dinner the first
mate hooked a fellow which he could not hold, so he let the line go
to the captain, who was on the bow. He, holding on, brought the
fish to with a jerk, and snap went the line, hook and all. We also
saw astern, swimming lazily after us, an enormous shark, which must
have been nine or ten feet long. We tried him with all sorts of
lines and a piece of pork, but he declined to take hold. I suppose
he had appeased his appetite on the heads and other remains of the
bonitos we had thrown overboard.
Next day's entry records the disaster. The three boats got away, retired
to a short distance, and stopped. The two injured ones were leaking
badly; some of the men were kept busy baling, others patched the holes as
well as they could. The captain, the two passengers, and eleven men were
in the long-boat, with a share of the provisions and water, and with no
room to spare, for the boat was only twenty-one feet long, six wide, and
three deep. The chief mate and eight men were in one of the small boats,
the second mate and seven men in the other. The passengers had saved no
clothing but what they had on, excepting their overcoats. The ship,
clothed in flame and sending up a vast column of black smoke into the
sky, made a grand picture in the solitudes of the sea, and hour after
hour the outcasts sat and watched it. Meantime the captain ciphered on
the immensity of the distance that stretched between him and the nearest
available land, and then scaled the rations down to meet the emergency;
half a biscuit for dinner; one biscuit and some canned meat for dinner;
half a biscuit for tea; a few swallows of water for each meal. And so
hunger began to gnaw while the ship was still burning.
[Diary entry] May 4. The ship burned all night very brightly, and
hopes are that some ship has seen the light and is bearing down upon
us. None seen, however, this forenoon, so we have determined to go
together north and a little west to some islands in 18 degrees or 19
degrees north latitude and 114 degrees to 115 degrees west
longitude, hoping in the meantime to be picked up by some ship. The
ship sank suddenly at about 5 A.M. We find the sun very hot and
scorching, but all try to keep out of it as much as we can.
They did a quite natural thing now: waited several hours for that
possible ship that might have seen the light to work her slow way to them
through the nearly dead calm. Then they gave it up and set about their
plans. If you will look at the map you will say that their course could
be easily decided. Albemarle Island (Galapagos group) lies straight
eastward nearly a thousand miles; the islands referred to in the diary as
'some islands' (Revillagigedo Islands) lie, as they think, in some widely
uncertain region northward about one thousand miles and westward one
hundred or one hundred and fifty miles. Acapulco, on the Mexican coast,
lies about north-east something short of one thousand miles. You will
say random rocks in the ocean are not what is wanted; let them strike for
Acapulco and the solid continent. That does look like the rational
course, but one presently guesses from the diaries that the thing would
have been wholly irrational--indeed, suicidal. If the boats struck for
Albemarle they would be in the doldrums all the way; and that means a
watery perdition, with winds which are wholly crazy, and blow from all
points of the compass at once and also perpendicularly. If the boats
tried for Acapulco they would get out of the doldrums when half-way
there--in case they ever got half-way--and then they would be in
lamentable case, for there they would meet the north-east trades coming
down in their teeth, and these boats were so rigged that they could not
sail within eight points of the wind. So they wisely started northward,
with a slight slant to the west. They had but ten days' short allowance
of food; the long-boat was towing the others; they could not depend on
making any sort of definite progress in the doldrums, and they had four
or five hundred miles of doldrums in front of them yet. They are the
real equator, a tossing, roaring, rainy belt, ten or twelve hundred miles
broad, which girdles the globe.
It rained hard the first night and all got drenched, but they filled up
their water-butt. The brothers were in the stern with the captain, who
steered. The quarters were cramped; no one got much sleep. 'Kept on our
course till squalls headed us off.'
Stormy and squally the next morning, with drenching rains. A heavy and
dangerous 'cobbling' sea. One marvels how such boats could live in it.
Is it called a feat of desperate daring when one man and a dog cross the
Atlantic in a boat the size of a long-boat, and indeed it is; but this
long-boat was overloaded with men and other plunder, and was only three
feet deep. 'We naturally thought often of all at home, and were glad to
remember that it was Sacrament Sunday, and that prayers would go up from
our friends for us, although they know not our peril.'
The captain got not even a cat-nap during the first three days and
nights, but he got a few winks of sleep the fourth night. 'The worst sea
yet.' About ten at night the captain changed his course and headed
east-north-east, hoping to make Clipperton Rock. If he failed, no
matter; he would be in a better position to make those other islands. I
will mention here that he did not find that rock.
On May 8 no wind all day; sun blistering hot; they take to the oars.
Plenty of dolphins, but they couldn't catch any. 'I think we are all
beginning to realise more and more the awful situation we are in.' 'It
often takes a ship a week to get through the doldrums; how much longer,
then, such a craft as ours?' 'We are so crowded that we cannot stretch
ourselves out for a good sleep, but have to take it any way we can get
Of course this feature will grow more and more trying, but it will be
human nature to cease to set it down; there will be five weeks of it yet
--we must try to remember that for the diarist; it will make our beds the
May 9 the sun gives him a warning: 'Looking with both eyes, the horizon
crossed thus +.' 'Henry keeps well, but broods over our troubles more
than I wish he did.' They caught two dolphins; they tasted well. 'The
captain believed the compass out of the way, but the long-invisible north
star came out--a welcome sight--and endorsed the compass.'
May 10, 'latitude 7 degrees 0 minutes 3 seconds N., longitude 111 degrees
32 minutes W.' So they have made about three hundred miles of northing
in the six days since they left the region of the lost ship. 'Drifting
in calms all day.' And baking hot, of course; I have been down there,
and I remember that detail. 'Even as the captain says, all romance has
long since vanished, and I think the most of us are beginning to look the
fact of our awful situation full in the face.' 'We are making but little
headway on our course.' Bad news from the rearmost boat: the men are
improvident; 'they have eaten up all of the canned meats brought from the
ship, and are now growing discontented.' Not so with the chief mate's
people--they are evidently under the eye of a man.
Under date of May 11: 'Standing still! or worse; we lost more last night
than we made yesterday.' In fact, they have lost three miles of the
three hundred of northing they had so laboriously made. 'The cock that
was rescued and pitched into the boat while the ship was on fire still
lives, and crows with the breaking of dawn, cheering us a good deal.'
What has he been living on for a week? Did the starving men feed him
from their dire poverty? 'The second mate's boat out of water again,
showing that they over-drink their allowance. The captain spoke pretty
sharply to them.' It is true: I have the remark in my old note-book; I
got it of the third mate in the hospital at Honolulu. But there is not
room for it here, and it is too combustible, anyway. Besides, the third
mate admired it, and what he admired he was likely to enhance.
They were still watching hopefully for ships. The captain was a
thoughtful man, and probably did not disclose on them that that was
substantially a waste of time. 'In this latitude the horizon is filled
with little upright clouds that look very much like ships.' Mr. Ferguson
saved three bottles of brandy from his private stores when he left the
ship, and the liquor came good in these days. 'The captain serves out
two tablespoonfuls of brandy and water--half and half--to our crew.' He
means the watch that is on duty; they stood regular watches--four hours
on and four off. The chief mate was an excellent officer--a self-
possessed, resolute, fine, all-round man. The diarist makes the
following note--there is character in it: 'I offered one bottle of brandy
to the chief mate, but he declined, saying he could keep the after-boat
quiet, and we had not enough for all.'
HENRY FERGUSON'S DIARY TO DATE, GIVEN IN FULL:
May 4, 5, 6, doldrums. May 7, 8, 9, doldrums. May 10, 11, 12,
doldrums. Tells it all. Never saw, never felt, never heard, never
experienced such heat, such darkness, such lightning and thunder,
and wind and rain, in my life before.
That boy's diary is of the economical sort that a person might properly
be expected to keep in such circumstances--and be forgiven for the
economy, too. His brother, perishing of consumption, hunger, thirst,
blazing heat, drowning rains, loss of sleep, lack of exercise, was
persistently faithful and circumstantial with his diary from the first
day to the last--an instance of noteworthy fidelity and resolution. In
spite of the tossing and plunging boat he wrote it close and fine, in a
hand as easy to read as print. They can't seem to get north of 7 degrees
N.; they are still there the next day:
[Diary entry] May 12. A good rain last night, and we caught a good
deal, though not enough to fill up our tank, pails, &c. Our object
is to get out of these doldrums, but it seems as if we cannot do it.
To-day we have had it very variable, and hope we are on the northern
edge, thought we are not much above 7 degrees. This morning we all
thought we had made out a sail; but it was one of those deceiving
clouds. Rained a good deal to-day, making all hands wet and
uncomfortable; we filled up pretty nearly all our water-pots,
however. I hope we may have a fine night, for the captain certainly
wants rest, and while there is any danger of squalls, or danger of
any kind, he is always on hand. I never would have believed that
open boats such as ours, with their loads, could live in some of the
seas we have had.
During the night, 12th-13th, 'the cry of A SHIP! brought us to our feet.'
It seemed to be the glimmer of a vessel's signal-lantern rising out of
the curve of the sea. There was a season of breathless hope while they
stood watching, with their hands shading their eyes, and their hearts in
their throats; then the promise failed: the light was a rising star. It
is a long time ago--thirty-two years--and it doesn't matter now, yet one
is sorry for their disappointment. 'Thought often of those at home
to-day, and of the disappointment they will feel next Sunday at not
hearing from us by telegraph from San Francisco.' It will be many weeks
yet before the telegram is received, and it will come as a thunderclap of
joy then, and with the seeming of a miracle, for it will raise from the
grave men mourned as dead. 'To-day our rations were reduced to a quarter
of a biscuit a meal, with about half a pint of water.' This is on May
13, with more than a month of voyaging in front of them yet! However, as
they do not know that, 'we are all feeling pretty cheerful.'
In the afternoon of the 14th there was a thunderstorm, 'which toward
night seemed to close in around us on every side, making it very dark and
squally.' 'Our situation is becoming more and more desperate,' for they
were making very little northing 'and every day diminishes our small
stock of provisions.' They realise that the boats must soon separate,
and each fight for its own life. Towing the quarter-boats is a hindering
That night and next day, light and baffling winds and but little
progress. Hard to bear, that persistent standing still, and the food
wasting away. 'Everything in a perfect sop; and all so cramped, and no
change of clothes.' Soon the sun comes out and roasts them. 'Joe caught
another dolphin to-day; in his maw we found a flying-fish and two
skipjacks.' There is an event, now, which rouses an enthusiasm of hope:
a land-bird arrives! It rests on the yard for awhile, and they can look
at it all they like, and envy it, and thank it for its message. As a
subject of talk it is beyond price--a fresh new topic for tongues tired
to death of talking upon a single theme: Shall we ever see the land
again; and when? Is the bird from Clipperton Rock? They hope so; and
they take heart of grace to believe so. As it turned out the bird had no
message; it merely came to mock.
May 16, 'the cock still lives, and daily carols forth his praise.' It
will be a rainy night, 'but I do not care if we can fill up our
On the 17th one of those majestic spectres of the deep, a water-spout,
stalked by them, and they trembled for their lives. Young Henry set it
down in his scanty journal with the judicious comment that 'it might have
been a fine sight from a ship.'
From Captain Mitchell's log for this day: 'Only half a bushel of
bread-crumbs left.' (And a month to wander the seas yet.')
It rained all night and all day; everybody uncomfortable. Now came a
sword-fish chasing a bonito; and the poor thing, seeking help and
friends, took refuge under the rudder. The big sword-fish kept hovering
around, scaring everybody badly. The men's mouths watered for him, for
he would have made a whole banquet; but no one dared to touch him, of
course, for he would sink a boat promptly if molested. Providence
protected the poor bonito from the cruel sword-fish. This was just and
right. Providence next befriended the shipwrecked sailors: they got the
bonito. This was also just and right. But in the distribution of
mercies the sword-fish himself got overlooked. He now went away; to muse
over these subtleties, probably. The men in all the boats seem pretty
well; the feeblest of the sick ones (not able for a long time to stand
his watch on board the ship) 'is wonderfully recovered.' This is the
third mate's detected 'Portyghee' that raised the family of abscesses.
Passed a most awful night. Rained hard nearly all the time, and
blew in squalls, accompanied by terrific thunder and lightning from
all points of the compass.--Henry's Log.
Most awful night I ever witnessed.--Captain's Log.
Latitude, May 18, 11 degrees 11 minutes. So they have averaged but forty
miles of northing a day during the fortnight. Further talk of
separating. 'Too bad, but it must be done for the safety of the whole.'
'At first I never dreamed, but now hardly shut my eyes for a cat-nap
without conjuring up something or other--to be accounted for by weakness,
I suppose.' But for their disaster they think they would be arriving in
San Francisco about this time. 'I should have liked to send B---the
telegram for her birthday.' This was a young sister.
On the 19th the captain called up the quarter-boats and said one would
have to go off on its own hook. The long-boat could no longer tow both
of them. The second mate refused to go, but the chief mate was ready; in
fact, he was always ready when there was a man's work to the fore. He
took the second mate's boat; six of its crew elected to remain, and two
of his own crew came with him (nine in the boat, now, including himself).
He sailed away, and toward sunset passed out of sight. The diarist was
sorry to see him go. It was natural; one could have better spared the
'Portyghee.' After thirty-two years I find my prejudice against this
'Portyghee' reviving. His very looks have long passed out of my memory;
but no matter, I am coming to hate him as religiously as ever. 'Water
will now be a scarce article, for as we get out of the doldrums we shall
get showers only now and then in the trades. This life is telling
severely on my strength. Henry holds out first-rate.' Henry did not
start well, but under hardships he improved straight along.
Latitude, Sunday, May 20, 12 degrees 0 minutes 9 seconds. They ought to
be well out of the doldrums now, but they are not. No breeze--the
longed-for trades still missing. They are still anxiously watching for a
sail, but they have only 'visions of ships that come to naught--the
shadow without the substance.' The second mate catches a booby this
afternoon, a bird which consists mainly of feathers; 'but as they have no
other meat, it will go well.'
May 21, they strike the trades at last! The second mate catches three
more boobies, and gives the long-boat one. Dinner 'half a can of
mincemeat divided up and served around, which strengthened us somewhat.'
They have to keep a man bailing all the time; the hole knocked in the
boat when she was launched from the burning ship was never efficiently
mended. 'Heading about north-west now.' They hope they have easting
enough to make some of these indefinite isles. Failing that, they think
they will be in a better position to be picked up. It was an infinitely
slender chance, but the captain probably refrained from mentioning that.
The next day is to be an eventful one.
[Diary entry] May 22. Last night wind headed us off, so that part
of the time we had to steer east-south-east and then west-north-
west, and so on. This morning we were all startled by a cry of
'SAIL HO!' Sure enough, we could see it! And for a time we cut
adrift from the second mate's boat, and steered so as to attract its
attention. This was about half-past five A.M. After sailing in a
state of high excitement for almost twenty minutes we made it out to
be the chief mate's boat. Of course we were glad to see them and
have them report all well; but still it was a bitter disappointment
to us all. Now that we are in the trades it seems impossible to
make northing enough to strike the isles. We have determined to do
the best we can, and get in the route of vessels. Such being the
determination, it became necessary to cast off the other boat,
which, after a good deal of unpleasantness, was done, we again
dividing water and stores, and taking Cox into our boat. This makes
our number fifteen. The second mate's crew wanted to all get in
with us, and cast the other boat adrift. It was a very painful
So these isles that they have struggled for so long and so hopefully have
to be given up. What with lying birds that come to mock, and isles that
are but a dream, and 'visions of ships that come to naught,' it is a
pathetic time they are having, with much heartbreak in it. It was odd
that the vanished boat, three days lost to sight in that vast solitude,
should appear again. But it brought Cox--we can't be certain why. But
if it hadn't, the diarist would never have seen the land again.
[Diary entry] Our chances as we go west increase in regard to being
picked up, but each day our scanty fare is so much reduced. Without
the fish, turtle, and birds sent us, I do not know how we should
have got along. The other day I offered to read prayers morning and
evening for the captain, and last night commenced. The men,
although of various nationalities and religions, are very attentive,
and always uncovered. May God grant my weak endeavour its issue!
Latitude, May 24, 14 degrees 18 minutes N. Five oysters apiece for
dinner and three spoonfuls of juice, a gill of water, and a piece of
biscuit the size of a silver dollar. 'We are plainly getting
weaker--God have mercy upon us all!' That night heavy seas break
over the weather side and make everybody wet and uncomfortable
besides requiring constant baling.
Next day 'nothing particular happened.' Perhaps some of us would have
regarded it differently. 'Passed a spar, but not near enough to see what
it was.' They saw some whales blow; there were flying-fish skimming the
seas, but none came aboard. Misty weather, with fine rain, very
Latitude, May 26, 15 degrees 50 minutes. They caught a flying-fish and a
booby, but had to eat them raw. 'The men grow weaker, and, I think,
despondent; they say very little, though.' And so, to all the other
imaginable and unimaginable horrors, silence is added--the muteness and
brooding of coming despair. 'It seems our best chance to get in the
track of ships with the hope that some one will run near enough to our
speck to see it.' He hopes the other boards stood west and have been
picked up. (They will never be heard of again in this world.)
[Diary entry] Sunday, May 27, Latitude 16 degrees 0 minutes 5
seconds; longitude, by chronometer, 117 degrees 22 minutes. Our
fourth Sunday! When we left the ship we reckoned on having about
ten days' supplies, and now we hope to be able, by rigid economy, to
make them last another week if possible. Last night the sea was
comparatively quiet, but the wind headed us off to about west-north-
west, which has been about our course all day to-day. Another
flying-fish came aboard last night, and one more to-day--both small
ones. No birds. A booby is a great catch, and a good large one
makes a small dinner for the fifteen of us--that is, of course, as
dinners go in the 'Hornet's' long-boat. Tried this morning to read
the full service to myself, with the Communion, but found it too
much; am too weak, and get sleepy, and cannot give strict attention;
so I put off half till this afternoon. I trust God will hear the
prayers gone up for us at home to-day, and graciously answer them by
sending us succour and help in this our season of deep distress.
The next day was 'a good day for seeing a ship.' But none was seen. The
diarist 'still feels pretty well,' though very weak; his brother Henry
'bears up and keeps his strength the best of any on board.' 'I do not
feel despondent at all, for I fully trust that the Almighty will hear our
and the home prayers, and He who suffers not a sparrow to fall sees and
cares for us, His creatures.'
Considering the situation and circumstances, the record for next day,
May 29, is one which has a surprise in it for those dull people who think
that nothing but medicines and doctors can cure the sick. A little
starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best
medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean
total abstention from food for one or two days. I speak from experience;
starvation has been my cold and fever doctor for fifteen years, and has
accomplished a cure in all instances. The third mate told me in Honolulu
that the 'Portyghee' had lain in his hammock for months, raising his
family of abscesses and feeding like a cannibal. We have seen that in
spite of dreadful weather, deprivation of sleep, scorching, drenching,
and all manner of miseries, thirteen days of starvation 'wonderfully
recovered' him. There were four sailors down sick when the ship was
burned. Twenty-five days of pitiless starvation have followed, and now
we have this curious record: 'All the men are hearty and strong; even the
ones that were down sick are well, except poor Peter.' When I wrote an
article some months ago urging temporary abstention from food as a remedy
for an inactive appetite and for disease, I was accused of jesting, but I
was in earnest. 'We are all wonderfully well and strong, comparatively
speaking.' On this day the starvation regime drew its belt a couple of
buckle-holes tighter: the bread ration was reduced from the usual piece
of cracker the size of a silver dollar to the half of that, and one meal
was abolished from the daily three. This will weaken the men physically,
but if there are any diseases of an ordinary sort left in them they will
Two quarts bread-crumbs left, one-third of a ham, three small cans
of oysters, and twenty gallons of water.--Captain's Log.
The hopeful tone of the diaries is persistent. It is remarkable. Look
at the map and see where the boat is: latitude 16 degrees 44 minutes,
longitude 119 degrees 20 minutes. It is more than two hundred miles west
of the Revillagigedo Islands, so they are quite out of the question
against the trades, rigged as this boat is. The nearest land available
for such a boat is the American group, six hundred and fifty miles away,
westward; still, there is no note of surrender, none even of
discouragement! Yet, May 30, 'we have now left: one can of oysters;
three pounds of raisins; one can of soup; one-third of a ham; three pints
And fifteen starved men to live on it while they creep and crawl six
hundred and fifty miles. 'Somehow I feel much encouraged by this change
of course (west by north) which we have made to-day.' Six hundred and
fifty miles on a hatful of provisions. Let us be thankful, even after
thirty-two years, that they are mercifully ignorant of the fact that it
isn't six hundred and fifty that they must creep on the hatful, but
Isn't the situation romantic enough just as it stands? No. Providence
added a startling detail: pulling an oar in that boat, for common
seaman's wages, was a banished duke--Danish. We hear no more of him;
just that mention, that is all, with the simple remark added that 'he is
one of our best men'--a high enough compliment for a duke or any other
man in those manhood-testing circumstances. With that little glimpse of
him at his oar, and that fine word of praise, he vanishes out of our
knowledge for all time. For all time, unless he should chance upon this
note and reveal himself.
The last day of May is come. And now there is a disaster to report:
think of it, reflect upon it, and try to understand how much it means,
when you sit down with your family and pass your eye over your breakfast-
table. Yesterday there were three pints of bread-crumbs; this morning
the little bag is found open and some of the crumbs are missing. 'We
dislike to suspect any one of such a rascally act, but there is no
question that this grave crime has been committed. Two days will
certainly finish the remaining morsels. God grant us strength to reach
the American group!' The third mate told me in Honolulu that in these
days the men remembered with bitterness that the 'Portyghee' had devoured
twenty-two days' rations while he lay waiting to be transferred from the
burning ship, and that now they cursed him and swore an oath that if it
came to cannibalism he should be the first to suffer for the rest.
[Diary entry] The captain has lost his glasses, and therefore he
cannot read our pocket prayer-books as much as I think he would
like, though he is not familiar with them.
Further of the captain: 'He is a good man, and has been most kind to us--
almost fatherly. He says that if he had been offered the command of the
ship sooner he should have brought his two daughters with him.' It makes
one shudder yet to think how narrow an escape it was.
The two meals (rations) a day are as follows: fourteen raisins and a
piece of cracker the size of a penny for tea; a gill of water, and a
piece of ham and a piece of bread, each the size of a penny, for
He means a penny in thickness as well as in circumference. Samuel
Ferguson's diary says the ham was shaved 'about as thin as it could be
[Diary entry] June 1. Last night and to-day sea very high and
cobbling, breaking over and making us all wet and cold. Weather
squally, and there is no doubt that only careful management--with
God's protecting care--preserved us through both the night and the
day; and really it is most marvellous how every morsel that passes
our lips is blessed to us. It makes me think daily of the miracle
of the loaves and fishes. Henry keeps up wonderfully, which is a
great consolation to me. I somehow have great confidence, and hope
that our afflictions will soon be ended, though we are running
rapidly across the track of both outward and inward bound vessels,
and away from them; our chief hope is a whaler, man-of-war, or some
Australian ship. The isles we are steering for are put down in
Bowditch, but on my map are said to be doubtful. God grant they may
Hardest day yet.--Captain's Log.
Doubtful! It was worse than that. A week later they sailed straight
[Diary entry] June 2. Latitude 18 degrees 9 minutes. Squally,
cloudy, a heavy sea.... I cannot help thinking of the cheerful and
comfortable time we had aboard the 'Hornet.'
Two days' scanty supplies left--ten rations of water apiece and a
little morsel of bread. BUT THE SUN SHINES AND GOD IS MERCIFUL.--
[Diary entry] Sunday, June 3. Latitude 17 degrees 54 minutes.
Heavy sea all night, and from 4 A.M. very wet, the sea breaking
over us in frequent sluices, and soaking everything aft,
particularly. All day the sea has been very high, and it is a
wonder that we are not swamped. Heaven grant that it may go down
this evening! Our suspense and condition are getting terrible. I
managed this morning to crawl, more than step, to the forward end of
the boat, and was surprised to find that I was so weak, especially
in the legs and knees. The sun has been out again, and I have dried
some things, and hope for a better night.
June 4. Latitude 17 degrees 6 minutes, longitude 131 degrees 30
minutes. Shipped hardly any seas last night, and to-day the sea has
gone down somewhat, although it is still too high for comfort, as we
have an occasional reminder that water is wet. The sun has been out
all day, and so we have had a good drying. I have been trying for
the last ten or twelve days to get a pair of drawers dry enough to
put on, and to-day at last succeeded. I mention this to show the
state in which we have lived. If our chronometer is anywhere near
right, we ought to see the American Isles to-morrow or next day. If
there are not there, we have only the chance, for a few days, of a
stray ship, for we cannot eke out the provisions more than five or
six days longer, and our strength is failing very fast. I was much
surprised to-day to note how my legs have wasted away above my
knees: they are hardly thicker than my upper arm used to be. Still,
I trust in God's infinite mercy, and feel sure he will do what is
best for us. To survive, as we have done, thirty-two days in an
open boat, with only about ten days' fair provisions for thirty-one
men in the first place, and these divided twice subsequently, is
more than mere unassisted HUMAN art and strength could have
accomplished and endured.
Bread and raisins all gone.--Captain's Log.
Men growing dreadfully discontented, and awful grumbling and
unpleasant talk is arising. God save us from all strife of men; and
if we must die now, take us himself, and not embitter our bitter
death still more.--Henry's Log.
[Diary entry] June 5. Quiet night and pretty comfortable day,
though our sail and block show signs of failing, and need taking
down--which latter is something of a job, as it requires the
climbing of the mast. We also had news from forward, there being
discontent and some threatening complaints of unfair allowances,
etc., all as unreasonable as foolish; still, these things bid us be
on our guard. I am getting miserably weak, but try to keep up the
best I can. If we cannot find those isles we can only try to make
north-west and get in the track of Sandwich Island-bound vessels,
living as best we can in the meantime. To-day we changed to one
meal, and that at about noon, with a small ration or water at 8 or 9
A.M., another at 12 A.M., and a third at 5 or 6 P.M.
Nothing left but a little piece of ham and a gill of water, all
They are down to one meal a day now--such as it is--and fifteen hundred
miles to crawl yet! And now the horrors deepen, and, though they escaped
actual mutiny, the attitude of the men became alarming. Now we seem to
see why that curious incident happened, so long ago; I mean Cox's return,
after he had been far away and out of sight several days in the chief
mate's boat. If he had not come back the captain and the two young
passengers might have been slain, now, by these sailors, who were
becoming crazed through their sufferings.
NOTE SECRETLY PASSED BY HENRY TO HIS BROTHER:
Cox told me last night that there is getting to be a good deal of
ugly talk among the men against the captain and us aft. They say
that the captain is the cause of all; that he did not try to save
the ship at all, nor to get provisions, and that even would not let
the men put in some they had; and that partiality is shown us in
apportioning our rations aft. ....asked Cox the other day if he
would starve first or eat human flesh. Cox answered he would
starve. ....then told him he would only be killing himself. If we
do not find those islands we would do well to prepare for anything.
....is the loudest of all.
We can depend on ...., I think, and ...., and Cox, can we not?
I guess so, and very likely on....; but there is no telling.... and
Cox are certain. There is nothing definite said or hinted as yet,
as I understand Cox; but starving men are the same as maniacs. It
would be well to keep a watch on your pistol, so as to have it and
the cartridges safe from theft.
Henry's Log, June 5. Dreadful forebodings. God spare us from all
such horrors! Some of the men getting to talk a good deal. Nothing
to write down. Heart very sad.
Henry's Log, June 6. Passed some sea-weed and something that looked
like the trunk of an old tree, but no birds; beginning to be afraid
islands not there. To-day it was said to the captain, in the
hearing of all, that some of the men would not shrink, when a man
was dead, from using the flesh, though they would not kill.
Horrible! God give us all full use of our reason, and spare us from
such things! 'From plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and
murder, and from sudden death, good Lord, deliver us!'
[Diary entry] June 6. Latitude 16 degrees 30 minutes, longitude
(chron.) 134 degrees. Dry night and wind steady enough to require
no change in sail; but this A.M. an attempt to lower it proved
abortive. First the third mate tried and got up to the block, and
fastened a temporary arrangement to reeve the halyards through, but
had to come down, weak and almost fainting, before finishing; then
Joe tried, and after twice ascending, fixed it and brought down the
block; but it was very exhausting work, and afterward he was good
for nothing all day. The clue-iron which we are trying to make
serve for the broken block works, however, very indifferently, and
will, I am afraid, soon cut the rope. It is very necessary to get
everything connected with the sail in good easy running order before
we get too weak to do anything with it.
Only three meals left.--Captain's Log.
[Diary entry] June 7. Latitude 16 degrees 35 minutes N., longitude
136 degrees 30 minutes W. Night wet and uncomfortable. To-day
shows us pretty conclusively that the American Isles are not there,
though we have had some signs that looked like them. At noon we
decided to abandon looking any farther for them, and to-night haul a
little more northerly, so as to get in the way of Sandwich Island
vessels, which fortunately come down pretty well this way--say to
latitude 19 degrees to 20 degrees to get the benefit of the trade-
winds. Of course all the westing we have made is gain, and I hope
the chronometer is wrong in our favour, for I do not see how any
such delicate instrument can keep good time with the constant
jarring and thumping we get from the sea. With the strong trade we
have, I hope that a week from Sunday will put us in sight of the
Sandwich Islands, if we are not safe by that time by being picked
It is twelve hundred miles to the Sandwich Islands; the provisions are
virtually exhausted, but not the perishing diarist's pluck.
[Diary entry] My cough troubled me a good deal last night, and
therefore I got hardly any sleep at all. Still, I make out pretty
well, and should not complain. Yesterday the third mate mended the
block, and this P.M. the sail, after some difficulty, was got down,
and Harry got to the top of the mast and rove the halyards through
after some hardship, so that it now works easy and well. This
getting up the mast is no easy matter at any time with the sea we
have, and is very exhausting in our present state. We could only
reward Harry by an extra ration of water. We have made good time
and course to-day. Heading her up, however, makes the boat ship
seas and keeps us all wet; however, it cannot be helped. Writing is
a rather precarious thing these times. Our meal to-day for the
fifteen consists of half a can of 'soup and boullie'; the other half
is reserved for to-morrow. Henry still keeps up grandly, and is a
great favourite. God grant he may be spared.
A better feeling prevails among the men.--Captain's Log.
[Diary entry] June 9. Latitude 17 degrees 53 minutes. Finished to-
day, I may say, our whole stack of provisions. We have only left
a lower end of a ham-bone, with some of the outer rind and skin on.
In regard to the water, however, I think we have got ten days'
supply at our present rate of allowance. This, with what
nourishment we can get from boot-legs and such chewable matter, we
hope will enable us to weather it out till we get to the Sandwich
Islands, or, sailing in the meantime in the track of vessels thither
bound, be picked up. My hope is in the latter, for in all human
probability I cannot stand the other. Still, we have been
marvellously protected, and God, I hope, will preserve us all in His
own good time and way. The men are getting weaker, but are still
quiet and orderly.
[Diary entry] Sunday, June 10. Latitude 18 degrees 40 minutes,
longitude 142 degrees 34 minutes. A pretty good night last night,
with some wettings, and again another beautiful Sunday. I cannot
but think how we should all enjoy it at home, and what a contrast is
here! How terrible their suspense must begin to be! God grant that
it may be relieved before very long, and He certainly seems to be
with us in everything we do, and has preserved this boat
miraculously; for since we left the ship we have sailed considerably
over three thousand miles, which, taking into consideration our
meagre stock of provisions, is almost unprecedented. As yet I do
not feel the stint of food so much as I do that of water. Even
Henry, who is naturally a good water-drinker, can save half of his
allowance from time to time, when I cannot. My diseased throat may
have something to do with that, however.
Nothing is now left which by any flattery can be called food. But they
must manage somehow for five days more, for at noon they have still eight
hundred miles to go. It is a race for life now.
This is no time for comments or other interruptions from me--every moment
is valuable. I will take up the boy brother's diary at this point, and
clear the seas before it and let it fly.
HENRY FERGUSON'S LOG:
Sunday, June 10. Our ham-bone has given us a taste of food to-day,
and we have got left a little meat and the remainder of the bone for
tomorrow. Certainly, never was there such a sweet knuckle-one, or
one that was so thoroughly appreciated.... I do not know that I
feel any worse than I did last Sunday, notwithstanding the reduction
of diet; and I trust that we may all have strength given us to
sustain the sufferings and hardships of the coming week. We
estimate that we are within seven hundred miles of the Sandwich
Islands, and that our average, daily, is somewhat over a hundred
miles, so that our hopes have some foundation in reason. Heaven
send we may all live to see land!
June 11. Ate the meat and rind of our ham-bone, and have the bone
and the greasy cloth from around the ham left to eat to-morrow. God
send us birds or fish, and let us not perish of hunger, or be
brought to the dreadful alternative of feeding on human flesh! As I
feel now, I do not think anything could persuade me; but you cannot
tell what you will do when you are reduced by hunger and your mind
wandering. I hope and pray we can make out to reach the islands
before we get to this strait; but we have one or two desperate men
aboard, though they are quiet enough now. IT IS MY FIRM TRUST AND
BELIEF THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE SAVED.
All food gone.--Captain's Log.
[Ferguson's log continues]
June 12. Stiff breeze, and we are fairly flying--dead ahead of it--
and toward the islands. Good hope, but the prospects of hunger are
awful. Ate ham-bone to-day. It is the captain's birthday; he is
fifty-four years old.
June 13. The ham-rags are not quite all gone yet, and the boot-
legs, we find, are very palatable after we get the salt out of them.
A little smoke, I think, does some little good; but I don't know.
June 14. Hunger does not pain us much, but we are dreadfully weak.
Our water is getting frightfully low. God grant we may see land
soon! NOTHING TO EAT, but feel better than I did yesterday. Toward
evening saw a magnificent rainbow--THE FIRST WE HAD SEEN. Captain
said, 'Cheer up, boys; it's a prophecy--IT'S THE BOW OF PROMISE!'
June 15. God be for ever praised for His infinite mercy! LAND IN
SIGHT! rapidly neared it and soon were SURE of it... Two noble
Kanakas swam out and took the boat ashore. We were joyfully
received by two white men--Mr. Jones and his steward Charley--and a
crowd of native men, women, and children. They treated us
splendidly--aided us, and carried us up the bank, and brought us
water, poi, bananas, and green coconuts; but the white men took care
of us and prevented those who would have eaten too much from doing
so. Everybody overjoyed to see us, and all sympathy expressed in
faces, deeds, and words. We were then helped up to the house; and
help we needed. Mr. Jones and Charley are the only white men here.
Treated us splendidly. Gave us first about a teaspoonful of spirits
in water, and then to each a cup of warm tea, with a little bread.
Takes EVERY care of us. Gave us later another cup of tea, and bread
the same, and then let us go to rest. IT IS THE HAPPIEST DAY OF MY
LIFE... God in His mercy has heard our prayer.... Everybody is so
kind. Words cannot tell.
June 16. Mr. Jones gave us a delightful bed, and we surely had a
good night's rest; but not sleep--we were too happy to sleep; would
keep the reality and not let it turn to a delusion--dreaded that we
might wake up and find ourselves in the boat again.
It is an amazing adventure. There is nothing of its sort in history that
surpasses it in impossibilities made possible. In one extraordinary
detail--the survival of every person in the boat--it probably stands
alone in the history of adventures of its kinds. Usually merely a part
of a boat's company survive--officers, mainly, and other educated and
tenderly-reared men, unused to hardship and heavy labour; the untrained,
roughly-reared hard workers succumb. But in this case even the rudest
and roughest stood the privations and miseries of the voyage almost as
well as did the college-bred young brothers and the captain. I mean,
physically. The minds of most of the sailors broke down in the fourth
week and went to temporary ruin, but physically the endurance exhibited
was astonishing. Those men did not survive by any merit of their own, of
course, but by merit of the character and intelligence of the captain;
they lived by the mastery of his spirit. Without him they would have
been children without a nurse; they would have exhausted their provisions
in a week, and their pluck would not have lasted even as long as the
The boat came near to being wrecked at the last. As it approached the
shore the sail was let go, and came down with a run; then the captain saw
that he was drifting swiftly toward an ugly reef, and an effort was made
to hoist the sail again; but it could not be done; the men's strength was
wholly exhausted; they could not even pull an oar. They were helpless,
and death imminent. It was then that they were discovered by the two
Kanakas who achieved the rescue. They swam out and manned the boat, and
piloted her through a narrow and hardly noticeable break in the reef--the
only break in it in a stretch of thirty-five miles! The spot where the
landing was made was the only one in that stretch where footing could
have been found on the shore; everywhere else precipices came sheer down
into forty fathoms of water. Also, in all that stretch this was the only
spot where anybody lived.
Within ten days after the landing all the men but one were up and
creeping about. Properly, they ought to have killed themselves with the
'food' of the last few days--some of them, at any rate--men who had
freighted their stomachs with strips of leather from old boots and with
chips from the butter cask; a freightage which they did not get rid of by
digestion, but by other means. The captain and the two passengers did
not eat strips and chips, as the sailors did, but scraped the boot-
leather and the wood, and made a pulp of the scrapings by moistening them
with water. The third mate told me that the boots were old and full of
holes; then added thoughtfully, 'but the holes digested the best.'
Speaking of digestion, here is a remarkable thing, and worth nothing:
during this strange voyage, and for a while afterward on shore, the
bowels of some of the men virtually ceased from their functions; in some
cases there was no action for twenty and thirty days, and in one case for
forty-four! Sleeping also came to be rare. Yet the men did very well
without it. During many days the captain did not sleep at all--twenty-
one, I think, on one stretch.
When the landing was made, all the men were successfully protected from
over-eating except the 'Portyghee;' he escaped the watch and ate an
incredible number of bananas: a hundred and fifty-two, the third mate
said, but this was undoubtedly an exaggeration; I think it was a hundred
and fifty-one. He was already nearly half full of leather; it was
hanging out of his ears. (I do not state this on the third mate's
authority, for we have seen what sort of a person he was; I state it on
my own.) The 'Portyghee' ought to have died, of course, and even now it
seems a pity that he didn't; but he got well, and as early as any of
them; and all full of leather, too, the way he was, and butter-timber and
handkerchiefs and bananas. Some of the men did eat handkerchiefs in
those last days, also socks; and he was one of them.
It is to the credit of the men that they did not kill the rooster that
crowed so gallantly mornings. He lived eighteen days, and then stood up
and stretched his neck and made a brave, weak effort to do his duty once
more, and died in the act. It is a picturesque detail; and so is that
rainbow, too--the only one seen in the forty-three days,--raising its
triumphal arch in the skies for the sturdy fighters to sail under to
victory and rescue.
With ten days' provisions Captain Josiah Mitchell performed this
memorable voyage of forty-three days and eight hours in an open boat,
sailing four thousand miles in reality and thirty-three hundred and sixty
by direct courses, and brought every man safe to land. A bright, simple-
hearted, unassuming, plucky, and most companionable man. I walked the
deck with him twenty-eight days--when I was not copying diaries,--and I
remember him with reverent honour. If he is alive he is eighty-six years
If I remember rightly, Samuel Ferguson died soon after we reached San
Francisco. I do not think he lived to see his home again; his disease
had been seriously aggravated by his hardships.
For a time it was hoped that the two quarter-boats would presently be
heard of, but this hope suffered disappointment. They went down with all
on board, no doubt, not even sparing that knightly chief mate.
The authors of the diaries allowed me to copy them exactly as they were
written, and the extracts that I have given are without any smoothing
over or revision. These diaries are finely modest and unaffected, and
with unconscious and unintentional art they rise toward the climax with
graduated and gathering force and swing and dramatic intensity; they
sweep you along with a cumulative rush, and when the cry rings out at
last, 'Land in sight!' your heart is in your mouth, and for a moment you
think it is you that have been saved. The last two paragraphs are not
improvable by anybody's art; they are literary gold; and their very
pauses and uncompleted sentences have in them an eloquence not reachable
by any words.
The interest of this story is unquenchable; it is of the sort that time
cannot decay. I have not looked at the diaries for thirty-two years, but
I find that they have lost nothing in that time. Lost? They have
gained; for by some subtle law all tragic human experiences gain in
pathos by the perspective of time. W