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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER III

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


LETTER  III


THE 20TH OF April being Sabbath, we requested the Captain not to permit any work to be done on board, excepting what was absolutely necessary. With this request he complied. I preached in the forenoon and Mr. Taylor in the afternoon, when all the passengers and crew attended. In the evening, the captain and I went ashore to wait upon the minister, according to his request. He met us at the door, and conducted us into the garden, where, though there was nothing to be seen, he kept us waiting till we were shivering with cold. At last he conducted us into the house, where we were received by his wife and some other ladies, who were visitors, in a very stiff and formal manner. The family was large, and four or five children present were so unruly and noisy that we could seldom hear one another speak. In a short time tea was served up with great ceremony, but I observed with regret that the good old custom, generally followed in Scotland, of asking a blessing on the refreshment we were to receive, was dispensed with.
           I had gone in the expectation of spending the evening in an agreeable manner, but the conversation was so trifling that I felt not at all comfortable. Several times I attempted to introduce something more suitable and serious, but it only produced silence. Between seven and eight we took our leave and returned, accompanied to the shore by a young surgeon, whose profane language was extremely disgusting.
           On the morning of the 21st I went ashore again, and had another ramble through the island, entering farmhouses and conversing with the people. They appeared to be poor, but cheerful and contented. In the mean time, the ship's boat was getting fresh water on board, which here is excellent. Springs flow from the hills, and every where fall into the sea in the purest streams.
           In the course of the night the wind having become more favourable, we prepared, on the morning of the 22nd April, for leaving Stromness. There was a shower in the morning, followed by a thick fog, which hindered us from putting to sea till the afternoon. In the mean time, however, we were employed warping out of the harbour, as the little wind we had blew directly in. Towards evening the fog cleared off, and proceeding to sea, we passed the Hoyhead in company with fifteen other vessels, most of them bound for America. After sunset the wind died away, and left us rocking among the waves, which still rolled in from the western ocean. All night it continued calm, but about midday on the 23rd a breeze sprung up. It was indeed in a wrong direction, but being now in the open sea, we had room to tack. All day we stood to the north. As the breeze freshened, and the motion of the ship increased, many became sick, and despondency again took the place of cheerfulness. An inquiry was set on foot to ascertain why the wind was generally against us. Some imputed it to the man who had forgotten to pay his debts, others to a party of smugglers who had escaped from the clutches of the excise, but the cook determined the question, by affirming in the strongest manner, that it was the unchristened child that occasioned our detention. Sailors are often very superstitious, of which we had a striking instance in this man, who appeared firmly to believe what he had asserted. The man, however, who owned the child did not ask for baptism, and, if he had, some proceedings not usual on board a ship must have been gone through. He was one of the smuggling party, was a desperate character, and it was discovered that he and the mother of the child were not married, though they had said they were when they came on board the ship. The wind becoming fair about sunset, we had a comfortable sleep, and all night ran seven or eight miles an hour.
           On the 24th we proceeded at the same rate. As we advanced into the ocean, the colour of the sea somewhat changed. Near the coast, it had a greenish cast, but in the ocean it had the appearance of a deep blue. About mid-day we passed the islands of Rona and Barra. We now found ourselves in the western ocean, and, what was worse, many of us sick. In the course of the afternoon there was much grumbling among the passengers about the provisions. A new act had been passed a few weeks before we sailed, providing that a certain quantity of butter, flour, and oatmeal, should be allowed to each passenger. None of these articles had been served out; and, the beef and biscuit being too long kept, the people became quite dissatisfied.
           On the 25th a rebellion was like to have broken out in the ship. The provisions formed the bone of contention; the Captain persisting in his refusal to serve out butter, flour, &c. according to the provisions of the act. It was ascertained, however, that before sailing he had been required to lay in these articles, and that they had been taken on board accordingly. One of the passengers produced a printed copy of the act, which he handed about among the passengers. A meeting was held, and a deputation appointed to wait upon the Captain and request that he would grant them the allowance provided for them by the legislature. But he denied that any such provision had been made, and threatened to make their situation much worse than it had hitherto been. They offered to show him the copy of the act which they had got, but he refused to look at it, and ordered them to leave the quarter deck immediately. This produced a serious fermentation, and some even proposed resorting to violent measures. These, however, were rendered unnecessary by our worthy commander's order, to serve out immediately a week's provisions, including butter, flour, and oatmeal. This not only restored peace, but gave general satisfaction, these articles being found to be of a good quality. At noon we were 220 miles west of the Hoyhead. The weather was fine and the air mild.
           A new difficulty arose on the 26th. The daily allowance of soup hitherto furnished, was withheld from the passengers, in consequence of their dispute with the Captain. Some of them went to him to remonstrate, but he not being in a listening humour, a serious altercation took place, and much threatening and abuse followed. I had been sick and in bed for some time, but after inquiring what was the matter, I went to the scene of action, and having learnt the merits of the case, proposed an accommodation, to which both parties agreed, and we had little more difficulty on that subject. The Captain, however, appeared to be a good deal mortified, and during the rest of the passage, he was more harsh and unaccommodating than before. This I considered very ungenerous, for though five or six of the passengers, the smugglers to wit, had treated him in a very unceremonious manner, yet the generality conducted themselves with a degree of moderation and submission that did them great credit. The proposal for having recourse to violent measures, they resisted with firmness, but in this, as in many other cases, the innocent were punished and the guilty escaped. From this time, the Captain seldom attended our morning and evening worship, some even said that he wished to throw obstacles in the way of others.
           Be this as it may, on the morning of next day, which was Sabbath, the 27th of April, the Captain ordered all the beds and bedding to be brought on deck and aired. As this was the first time such an order had been given since we left Leith, it excited both surprise aid indignation. The greater part of the passengers always wished to observe the Sabbath as it ought to be, and they considered this order as both unnecessary and insulting, as it seemed to be calculated to prevent our usual assemblies on that day. After some conversation, they requested me to speak to the Captain, and endeavour to persuade him to defer the work till another time; and to assure him that they would willingly attend to it on Monday or any other day except Sabbath, which they wished to devote to religious purposes. I delivered their message accordingly; but the captain, having taken at least his usual allowance of grog, was not in an accommodating humour. He told me that he was determined to enforce the order, as the act of Parliament required the beds to be aired, and it was usual to have it done on Sabbath. I observed, that it might be usual to have it done on that day, but, as another day would answer equally well, I thought it would be better to comply with the wishes of the passengers, and defer it till Monday. They were at that moment met for the purpose of engaging in our morning worship. It was my turn to officiate, and I proceeded to perform my duty. Worship being over, the captain came forward and made a speech, which was intended to remove our scruples. Among other things, he said, "I have had as good a religious education as any of you, although I have not always made a good use of it, and though I am not so well up to religion as you, (directing a look to Mr. Taylor and me) I know that airing the beds is a work of necessity, and I declare to God there is no harm in it." He then walked off, repeating his order to turn out the beds and air them. A few complied immediately, but the majority determined to wait till next day. About two hours after, the captain ordered all the passengers off the quarterdeck, swearing, that as he was master of his ship he was determined to have some respect shown him. Those who had carried their bedding on deck lost part of their blankets soon after, by a sudden gust of wind, which carried them overboard. This served as a warning to the rest who took care to have theirs better secured. Mr. Taylor preached in the forenoon, and I in the afternoon. In the interval the sailors cleaned the whole of the decks, and sprinkled them with vinegar. The cleaning of a ship is very necessary for preserving the health of the passengers, but surely this work might be performed on any other day rather than on the Sabbath. It is pleasing to observe the endeavours that are now taken to improve the moral and religious habits of seamen, for really many of them are very wicked.
           Next morning, the 28th, I was awakened by the rolling of the ship, and a strong wind blowing directly against us. We tacked and stood to the north, but the motion of the ship was violent and sickening. The sea was every hour growing rougher, so that few could keep out of bed; but in the evening the wind shifted to the north, and we got upon the right course once more.
           The wind was fair on the 29th, but light and unsteady. We went, however, six miles an hour all day. A large herd of porpoises passed us, tumbling along in a very odd manner. We saw, soon after, a few of the birds called Mother Carey's chickens. They resembled swallows at a distance, but were much larger. The day was fine, and every one cheerful and free from sickness.
           The wind was fair on the 30th, and we proceeded at the rate of seven miles an hour. There were plenty of gulls flying about us, though we were a great distance from land in every direction. At noon we were 751 miles west from Greenwich. At a distance I observed something floating on the water, and a number of gulls feeding at it. I supposed it to be a dead fish, or, perhaps, the body of some unfortunate seaman or luckless traveller.
           On the 1st of May, the wind again opposed us, and we stood to the north. Numerous gulls were flying about the ship and diving in the air, which sailors consider portentous of storm. The weather was cold and gloomy.
           May 2, The wind was still west, and blowing so hard that we could carry very little sail, and many were sick from the violent rolling of the ship. No sleep could be obtained in the night.
           On May 3, we had another storm, so violent that we could carry no sail at all. I have often heard of the sea running mountains high. The expression is doubtless a hyperbolic one, but if ever it could be used with propriety in any case I have witnessed, it might in this. The sea certainly had a frightful aspect. No provisions could be cooked or served out; but, indeed, eating with most of us was entirely out of the question. Here I will take the liberty of concluding this letter, which contains the history of two weeks of our voyage.
END OF LETTER III.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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