LCGS documents homepage
LCGS Online Resource Library
Transcribed Documents & Lanark County Research
Homepage for Genealogy Resource Centre | Visit LCGS Website

Articles - return to table of contents

HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER II

LETTERS FROM PERTH, UPPER CANADA.
BY THE
REV. WILLIAM BELL


LETTER  II


DURING THE NIGHT the gale having increased, we had, on the morning of the 13th, several squalls, which produced some alarm, though we carried very little sail. The wind being still from the north, the motion of the ship was violent and sickening. Though it was Sabbath, we had no sermon on board, the storm being so great, that no person could keep his place without holding fast. For myself, I was very sick, and compelled to keep my bed the whole day. Some were now, however, getting clear of their sickness, and able to move about. At sea it is easy to discover the natural disposition of your fellow-travellers. They soon lay aside all reserve. Our passengers were now seen in their proper characters. Some conducted themselves as seriously and consistently as the last Sabbath, while others were more profligate and regardless.
           The morning, of the 14th was fine, and I rose refreshed with a good sleep. The wind had fallen during the night,. the sea was becoming calm, and all our passengers were well, and hungry for their breakfast. This being dispatched, the Captain gave orders to prepare and rig our new main yard, a work which had hitherto been prevented by the storm. In a few minutes as many carpenters (passengers) as could get round it, were at work. About two P. M. it was finished, and in its place, and from that time till six in the evening we sailed with a fine favourable breeze. But when we entered the Murray Firth, the wind veered to the north-west as before, and began to blow a gale, so that we were obliged to stand out to sea during the night, carrying, very little sail.
           After a rough and tempestuous night, in which sleep was out of the question, we, on the morning of the 15th, tacked and made for the shore. On the appearance of land, it was found that we had drifted to the southward, and were still between Aberdeen and Peterhead. As the gale increased, we carried but little sail, and stood to the north-east during the whole day. The weather was cold and boisterous, and the sea running mountains high. We now suffered excessively, both from sickness and the rolling of the ship. No ease was to be obtained, either in bed or out of it; and we were often dashed from the one side to the other with the greatest violence.
           In the course of the following night the storm continued with unabated fury; our beds cracked frightfully; and every thing movable was dashed from its place. In the morning of the 16th we tacked and stood for the shore, or rather drove before the storm, for it had now become so violent that sailing was out of the question. Indeed not a sail was up, except a stay sail to steady the ship. But after all we could do, it rolled excessively; its side being exposed to a heavy sea, which frequently broke over it, and swept every thing movable from the deck. One of these seas had nearly carried a sailor overboard, but he got hold of something just in time to save himself. Two or three of the passengers had also very narrow escapes. I could have enjoyed the sublime aspect which the sea at this time presented, could I have obtained a firm station from which to view it, but the violent vibrations of the ship produced so much corporeal uneasiness, that the mind could enjoy nothing. The waves, capped with foam resembled hills covered with snow, and separated by green valleys. The storm continued all day, attended with hail and rain: the passengers spent their time below, some of them as quiet as possible, and others, either grumbling about the badness of the provisions, or groaning under the influence of uneasy feelings. The provisions, indeed, were none of the best, and produced much altercation in the course of the voyage. The bread, by the Captain himself, was admitted to be more than a year old, and the beef much older: indeed I have never seen any thing like the latter presented to human beings. The pork, however, was tolerable; and the oatmeal, of which there was a considerable quantity on board, was excellent. The first complaints about the beef were made to the cook, who was a cross, ill-natured, old man, and swore shockingly. He treated them in a very unceremonious way; and it was painful to hear the language used on the occasion. For some time after this storm of human passions, the old man would not allow the female passengers to approach the fire-place, to prepare food for their children, and kicked some who dared to disobey his mandates.
           On the morning of the 17th we found ourselves near a rugged, rocky shore, a few miles to the South of Wick, in Caithness. The wind having moderated the evening before, we had not only got a sound sleep, but advanced a good many miles during the night. A lot of us were free from sickness, and joy was visible in every countenance at the happy chance in our circumstances. I called the people together to worship, and we offered our grateful adorations to that Being who sets bounds to the raging of the sea, and hushes the storm into a calm at his pleasure. I bad been using every endeavour, from the first day I came on board, to get both the passengers and crew to leave off swearing entirely. Though the evil was not cured, it was evident that a reformation had taken place, or at least that some restraint had been imposed. I took this opportunity of impressing upon the minds of all, the folly, the absurdity, and the wickedness of profane swearing, and recommended, by every argument I could think of, the benefit of laying it aside at once. I reminded them of the disagreeable, and even dangerous circumstances, in which we had been placed for eight days past, and that something even worse might be awaiting us, if this vice should be still indulged. As a great majority of the passengers not only heartily joined with us in the performance of religious duties, but in every endeavour to promote improvement among the rest, our advices were not neglected. From this time forward none were heard to swear, except two or three of the sailors, and as many of the passengers, who seemed to be altogether incurable, at least by the means in our power. All day we continued beating to the northward, and at sunset arrived at John-o'-Groat's House, the north-east point of the mainland of Scotland. The tide not being favourable for entering the Pentland Firth, we resolved to remain were we were, and hang on the wind till morning. All this time the ruins of Johnny's far-famed mansion were full in view, on the side of a rocky hill near the point. The building seems to have been of small dimensions and only parts of the walls are now standing. it was resolved that we should proceed to Stromness, a port in one of the Orkney Isles, and there remain till the wind shifted, for it was now directly in our teeth.
           At three o'clock in the morning of the 18th, we left John-o'-Groat's House, and entered that sea of whirling and struggling waters, the Pentland Firth. Here the tide runs with inconceivable fury, and having at this time to oppose the wind, the conflict was tremendous. After we had passed this dangerous strait, and got among the lands, the sea became more tranquil. In our course, we made many a tack, and were sometimes within the ship's length of the rocks; the wind blew a strong breeze, the sea foamed, and the rain fell in torrents; but both sailors and passengers exerted themselves so well, that, under the direction of the pilot, before noon, they brought the ship to anchor in a spacious natural harbour, in front of the town of Stromness. Some ships were here before us, and others came afterwards, all more or less damaged by the late gales. We were quickly surrounded by boats, eager to take the passengers on shore: being asked how much they charged, they replied sixpence each person; but a competition taking place, most got shore for a penny.
           Mr. Taylor and I went a-shore, and waited upon one of the ministers. He treated us with civility, but appeared rather embarrassed, and seemed pleased when we took our leave. We then took a stroll through the town, and purchased a few articles of which we were in want. Most of the houses are two stories high, are white-washed on the outside, and have a very neat appearance when viewed from the harbour. But we were much surprised to find that there was no proper street, and that the houses were not arranged in rows, but scattered about in all directions. The vacant spaces between them were mostly paved with flat stones, wheel carriages, till lately, having been unknown on these islands. Provisions of all kinds, and peats for fuel, are brought from the country in hampers on the backs of little horses.
           We next took a walk into the country, and called at several farmhouses, expecting to procure milk, but in this we were disappointed, for none could be obtained. No wonder. Not a blade of grass had yet appeared, and the crop of last year was all consumed. The cattle of all descriptions were in a very poor condition. Some were gnawing the moss which covered their barren pastures, and others picking up the sea-weed along the shore. The soil did not appear to be naturally bad, but the natives seemed to have made but little progress in agriculture, drawing the chief part of their subsistence from the fishing. Their ploughs were composed of two crooked sticks, put together in the rudest manner. Had we not seen them in operation, we should have supposed them useless; but they performed their work much better than could be expected. We saw no thorn hedges, and scarcely a shrub or tree of any description. The only enclosures we observed were near the town, and these were surrounded with walls of loose stones, or banks of earth. The only grain they were sowing was oats, and that of a very inferior kind. But ploughing was the principal field operation going forward, and this was chiefly managed by women, while the men were engaged in the fishing.
           The dwellings of the country people were for the most part very homely mansions, through the walls of which both wind and rain find easy access. Yet this free admission of the air does them no injury, as the fine fresh complexions of the natives bear witness. On entering a farm-house, we found a family, the very picture of health, finishing a dinner of fish and eggs. They had no bread, nor, as we afterwards learned, any thing to make it of. They invited us to a seat, with an easy frankness, which at once gained our confidence. We soon found from their conversation, that though they were poor, they were not ignorant. On looking round, we discovered that the family was larger than we had supposed. In one place lay a calf, in another a ewe with two lambs, and in a third a hen was laying with great composure.
           On our return to the ship, we found that farmers from a distant part of the island had been there with a supply of provisions. Fowls they sold at ninepence each, butter at ninepence a-pound, and eggs fivepence a-dozen. They had also a small quantity of milk, which they sold at threepence a-quart, but no bread could be obtained. Indeed, we were informed there had been very little meal or flour in the island for several months. This island, which is of considerable extent, is called the Mainland of Orkney. It was formerly called Pomona, in honour of the goddess of fruit, but if her ladyship ever resided here, it must have been at some very remote period, as not a trace of her can now be discovered. Kirkwall is the capital, and is distant from Stromness nine miles.
           On the 19th, I made another excursion a few miles into the country, but the road not being good, I was forced to return. In two or three places I observed women carrying manure in baskets on their backs to enrich the land. This is a circumstance mentioned by several writers, but I considered it a joke. Most of the people I met were stout, active, and fair complexioned. As I passed the church-yard, I stepped in to look at the monuments of the dead. While thus employed, I was joined by the clergyman. He seemed to be very sensible and intelligent, as most of the Scottish clergy are. We took a walk along the shore together, and when we parted, he invited the Captain and me to call upon him at the manse on the following evening.
           On returning to the ship, I found that the repairs and watering were nearly completed, but the wind being still unfavourable, we could not move. About twenty other vessels were now at anchor near us, all repairing the injuries they had sustained from the storm.
END OF LETTER II.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

READ NEXT LETTER or PREVIOUS LETTER
OR CHOOSE A LETTER FROM THIS TABLE.
Letter: I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X
XI XII XIII XIV XV XVI XVII XVIII XIX XX
XXI XXII XXIII XXIV XXV Apx.I Apx.II Apx.III MENU