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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER V

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


LETTER  V


OUR RESIDENCE ON the banks of Newfoundland continued longer than we wished, for the fog was cold and we were heartily tired of a sea life. The wind was fair on the 18th, but so light that we advanced only about four miles an hour. The ship went so smoothly along that we could scarcely perceive her moving. Six vessels were in sight. As we approached the entrance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, they became more numerous. As the fog, cleared off, we observed two large pieces of ice, that we had passed in the night. We spoke a brig, nineteen days from Cork, in Ireland. At that moment two whales were observed spouting the water to a great height in the air, where it appeared like a column of smoke. After spouting, they showed their tail, and a great part of their back, above water. After amusing us about half an hour, they disappeared. The day was fine, and the ship went so steadily, that we had sermon both forenoon and afternoon.
           The wind was fair and steady on the 19th, and we ran eight miles an hour all day; but the fog was so close, that, in the evening, we were obliged to shorten sail lest we should run among the ice, or upon the coast of Newfoundland, which we were every moment expecting to see. Our water was become so filthy that it was a punishment to be compelled to taste it; so that we were anxiously looking for the termination of our passage. After sunset, we sounded in twenty-three fathoms, on the tall of the Green Bank.
           On the 20th, we steered for the channel between Cape Breton and Cape Ray, in cold weather and a thick fog. Judging that we were not far from the coast of Newfoundland, sounded several times, but found no bottom.
           About ten o'clock on the 21st, we had a narrow escape from the ice. The wind being from the northwest, we were steering for the coast when we fell in with some large masses, about forty miles east of Cape Ray, as we afterwards learned. We put about instantly, but were so near them that it was with difficulty we got clear without damage. This moment the coast of Newfoundland was discovered, and we had it some hours in view. But, being entirely covered with snow, it had a very uninviting appearance. The surface of the island appeared to be rocky, rugged, and uneven; but we saw no hills of any magnitude. Neither trees nor houses could be seen; a dreary waste extended as far as the eye could reach. The shore was lined with masses of ice; and the cold was so intense that one could seldom remain more than a few minutes on deck. All day we steered to the westward, with a light northerly breeze, keeping the coast upon our right. In the afternoon the sky was clear, and the sun shone bright, but it was still very cold.
           At daybreak on the 22nd, we discovered the island of Cape Breton, distant only five or six miles. The coast, for several miles from the shore, was lined with field-ice, or closely compacted masses, which extended both north and south as far as the eye could see. The island appeared to be mountainous, rocky, and barren, and was partially covered with snow. The wind being northerly, it was very cold, and we made but little progress. In the evening the wind died away, and the air became mild and pleasant. During the day we had seen several whales, and one of them within fifty yards of the ship. Some of the passengers being still dissatisfied about the provisions, one of them filled a bottle with soup, which, he said, he would carry to Quebec, where he intended to make a complaint against the Captain, for the manner in which he had treated us. He said it was merely stinking water, in which stinking beef had been boiled, which no dog would taste unless he was starving. In the evening we were becalmed on a sea as smooth as glass. Twenty-seven sail of vessels were in sight.
           On the morning of the 23rd, we prepared to enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence, by a strait about five leagues across between Cape North and St. Paul's Island. Our course appeared to be blocked up, for many miles, with ice; but as we had now the assistance of a gentle Southern breeze, we determined to attempt a passage. Accordingly two men were stationed at the helm, eight at the bows of the ship with fenders, and the first mate at the mast head to look out for openings in the ice, and give directions. Thus prepared, we set forward, and soon discovered that what had appeared a close body of ice was merely an immense assemblage of loose masses, of all shapes and sizes, covering about half the surface of the water. By dexterous steering, and the calmness of the sea we got through in safety. No large piece struck the ship except one; and, though this knocked some splinters off the bow, and nearly threw us down with the shock, yet the fenders preserved the ship, that she received no material injury. Having got through this ice, which we were about two hours in passing, we reached an open sea, and the breeze increasing, carried us forward at the rate of eight miles an hour - a velocity which we seldom exceeded. But the fog soon grew so thick, that we could not see the ship's length before us. We had sailed two hours without seeing any ice, and were beginning to congratulate ourselves that we were out of danger, when the man stationed at the bow vociferated, There is ice a-head. At this time we were going before the wind with every sail set, and the sea running high. Everything was let go, and the ship was wore with the utmost dispatch. But a few moments necessarily elapsed before she could come round, and they were moments of awful suspense. We were within a few yards of a group of enormous masses of ice, like ragged rocks, which would have probably stove in the side of the ship if we had fallen upon them; but Providence mercifully preserved us, and we got round in safety. As the wind was blowing directly towards the ice, we found it difficult getting away, and feared every moment being dashed against it; but every one exerted himself to the utmost, and she was carried off without damage. For two hours we stood to the south, when the fog clearing off, and there being no ice in sight we resumed our course, and steered to the west till sunset. In the evening the fog having returned, the Captain determined to lie to all night, lest we should again fall in with ice. When we entered among the ice in the morning, I forgot to tell you, we saw several of the masses entirely covered with sea birds; on others, seals were lying looking like shipwrecked mariners.
           May 25 - A day or two before we left Leith, our worthy captain wrote and published his "General Orders", among which was the following: "I order that there shall be no insult or obstruction of any kind whatever, given by any person on board this ship, to the religious worship of those who may be so inclined; and I earnestly recommend to all on board to meet and join in worship with the Rev. Messrs. Taylor and Bell when requested by them". To the honour of his passengers and the ship's crew, I have to say, we received neither insult nor obstruction from any of them. The evening being fine, several whales were seen spouting near us. They are very numerous in the Gulf. They, and I suppose all we saw on the passage, were of the kind called finners by the sailors. They are seldom attacked by whalers, their large fins being dangerous weapons. But finners were not the only monsters of the deep we saw in this place. At some distance I observed two large white porpoises playing. They frequently raised their tails ten or twelve feet in the air, and then lashed them in the water, raising the spray to a great height, like a shower of rain. They appeared to be remarkably white, and swift in their motions. Soon after they first appeared, one of them was observed fighting with another of a similar form, but different colour, being quite black. They sometimes raised their heads several yards above water, and appeared to be tearing one another like two dogs The black and white species, we were told, have great antipathy at one another. During the day the wind had been against us, but while we were engaged in worship, in the evening, it became fair, and we pursued our course rapidly all night.
           At four o'clock on the morning of the 26th, we passed Cape Rosiers, and approached the Continent of America. The shore is bold, and covered with wood, to the water's edge, but the snow still lay among the trees. It was cold, and winter did not seem to have taken its leave. About noon the wind became squally, and shifted to the west. This soon brought sickness, and a violent headache to many of us; for the ship was rather tumbling among the waves than sailing. In the ocean we had seen much larger waves, but never a more stormy and boisterous sea. The squall came so suddenly that it carried away the maintop mast of a brig near us before her sails could be lowered. The river, or rather the gulf, at this place, is said to be 60 miles in width.
           The 27th we spent very uncomfortably, as the storm abated nothing of its violence. Not a sail could be set and we drifted to the eastward under bare poles, as seamen express themselves: most of us sick and in bed.
           On the 28th the wind became more moderate, so that we were able to carry some sail, which lessened the violent rolling of the ship. In the morning, we were near the Island of Anticosti, but did not see it, being very sick. The situation of my family at this time gave me no little uneasiness; most of them being so reduced by protracted sickness, as to be unable to come out of bed even in fine weather. One of the boys was nearly blind, and we were much alarmed lest he should become entirely so.
           On the 29th, though the wind was still west, we made some progress. The weather was excessively cold, and the snow in the woods gave the country a very unpromising appearance. Both shores were in sight, but they were uninhabited, hilly and covered with wood. At noon we were close to the south shore. The hills appeared to be composed of sand or soft sand-stone. On our next tack, we observed a small boat at a distance, and supposing it contained a pilot, we shortened sail till he came on board. Though this was 280 miles below Quebec, yet pilots often come so far, looking for ships. They are obliged to have their numbers painted in large characters upon their sails, as well as on their boats. The law does not permit them to come below a place called Feather Point, and requires them to take the first vessel they meet. But as their fees increase with the size of the vessel, they sometimes go beyond their limits, looking for a large one, and then they pretend they have been driven beyond their limits, contrary to their inclinations.
           Our pilot being taken on board, informed us that he had left the island of Orleans, where he had a farm, nine days ago, and had run the whole distance, 270 miles, in a small boat, carrying only two men. They lay on shore during the night and in their boat during the day. Having a good wind, they had run seventy-five miles the same morning before we fell in with them. They had a cask in the boat from which we tasted the first American water; and I call assure you that wine would not have afforded me half the pleasure. I cannot describe to you how filthy and disgusting our water had been for some time, but this was sweet and good. The pilot also gave a little maple sugar. In colour it was something like bees' wax, and in taste it resembled honey. His report of the dullness of trade at Quebec damped the spirits of our passengers, many of them being mechanics. In the afternoon several whales were seen, two of them of a very large size. They spouted the water at a great height in the air, turned up their tails, and roared so as to be distinctly heard on board the ship. When I awoke on the 30th, the ship was going steadily, so I concluded the wind was fair. On inquiry I found it was so, and that we were running eight miles an hour. About seven o'clock we passed Cape Chat, where the width of the river is not more than thirty miles, but a little higher up it widens to forty-five or fifty. At noon we were close to the north shore. The land here is more level than lower down, but it is still covered with lofty pine and other timber down to the water's edge. A brig near us pumped hard all day, having received considerable damage among the ice.
           On the 31st, the wind being still fair, we passed, at day-break Bic Island, and some time after Crane Island. As we approached the south bank of the river, we observed that the land was cleared and inhabited. The farm-houses were mostly painted white, and stood on a gentle slope, at some distance from the water. The neatness of their appearance, and the aspect of the fields, which were assuming a verdant hue, revived our spirits, and offered sensations no less new than agreeable. The sight of human habitations, and of people employed in the labours of the field, had never before afforded me so much pleasure. For some time the land appeared to be good and nearly level, but except here and there, where a small settlement is formed on the bank of the river, it is entirely covered with wood, for we were still 100 miles below Quebec. During the day we passed several very pretty islands in the river, but the villages scattered along the south bank chiefly engaged our attention. Most of these villages, which were at the distance of four or five miles, contained each a neat little church with a steeple the spire of which was covered tin plates: or white iron, which in the sunshine have a very brilliant appearance. The width of the river was no more than eight or ten miles, and being favoured by both wind and tide we glided along with great rapidity. At five in the evening we passed Goose Island, which is forty miles below Quebec, when both wind and tide failing, we advanced but slowly the rest of the evening. At dusk we dropped anchor thirty miles below Quebec. All were in high spirits, encouraged by the hope of soon getting ashore.
END OF LETTER V.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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