Sailing of the Tonquin. - A Rigid Commander and a Reckless Crew. - Landsmen on
Shipboard.- Fresh-Water Sailors at Sea.- Lubber Nests. - Ship Fare.- A Labrador
Veteran- Literary Clerks.- Curious Travellers.- Robinson Crusoe's Island.- Quarter-Deck
Quarrels.- Falkland Islands.- A Wild-Goose Chase.- Port Egmont.- Epitaph Hunting.-
Old Mortality- Penguin Shooting.- Sportsmen Left in the Lurch.-A Hard Pull.- Further
Altercations.- Arrival at Owyhee.
ON the eighth of September, 1810, the Tonquin put to sea, where she was soon joined
by the frigate Constitution. The wind was fresh and fair from the southwest, and the
ship was soon out of sight of land and free from the apprehended danger of
interruption. The frigate, therefore, gave her "God speed," and left her to her course.
The harmony so earnestly enjoined by Mr. Astor on this heterogeneous crew, and
which had been so confidently promised in the buoyant moments of preparation, was
doomed to meet with a check at the very outset.
Captain Thorn was an honest, straighforward, but somewhat dry and dictatorial
commander, who, having been nurtured in the system and discipline of a ship of war,
and in a sacred opinion of the supremacy of the quarter-deck, was disposed to be
absolute lord and master on board of his ship. He appears, moreover, to have had no
great opinion, from the first, of the persons embarked with him - He had stood by with
surly contempt while they vaunted so bravely to Mr. Astor of all they could do and all
they could undergo; how they could face all weathers, put up with all kinds of fare, and
even eat dogs with a relish, when no better food was to be had. He had set them down
as a set of landlubbers and braggadocios, and was disposed to treat them accordingly.
Mr. Astor was, in his eyes, his only real employer, being the father of the enterprise,
who furnished all funds and bore all losses. The others were mere agents and
subordinates, who lived at his expense. He evidently had but a narrow idea of the
scope and nature of the enterprise, limiting his views merely to his part of it; everything
beyond the concerns of his ship was out of his sphere; and anything that interfered with
the routine of his nautical duties put him in a passion.
The partners, on the other hand, had been brought up in the service of the Northwest
Company, and in a profound idea of the importance, dignity, and authority of a partner.
They already began to consider themselves on a par with the M'Tavishes, the
M'Gillivrays, the Frobishers, and the other magnates of the Northwest, whom they had
been accustomed to look up to as the great ones of the earth; and they were a little
disposed, perhaps, to wear their suddenly-acquired honors with some air of pretension.
Mr. Astor, too, had put them on their mettle with respect to the captain, describing him
as a gunpowder fellow who would command his ship in fine style, and, if there was any
fighting to do, would "blow all out of the water."
Thus prepared to regard each other with no very cordial eye, it is not to be wondered at
that the parties soon came into collision. On the very first night Captain Thorn began
his man-of-war discipline by ordering the lights in the cabin to be extinguished at eight
The pride of the partners was immediately in arms. This was an invasion of their rights
and dignities not to be borne. They were on board of their own ship, and entitled to
consult their ease and enjoyment. M'Dougal was the champion of their cause. He was
an active, irritable, fuming, vainglorious little man, and elevated in his own opinion, by
being the proxy of Mr. Astor. A violent altercation ensued, in the course of which Thorn
threatened to put the partners in irons should they prove refractory; upon which
M'Dougal seized a pistol and swore to be the death of the captain should he ever offer
such an indignity. It was some time before the irritated parties could be pacified by the
more temperate bystanders.
Such was the captain's outset with the partners. Nor did the clerks stand much higher
in his good graces; indeed, he seems to have regarded all the landsmen on board his
ship as a kind of Iive lumber, continually in the way. The poor voyageurs, too,
continually irritated his spleen by their "lubberly" and unseemly habits, so abhorrent to
one accustomed to the cleanliness of a man-of-war. These poor fresh-water sailors, so
vainglorious on shore, and almost amphibious when on lakes and rivers, lost all heart
and stomach the moment they were at sea. For days they suffered the doleful rigors
and retchings of sea-sickness, lurking below in their berths in squalid state, or
emerging now and then like spectres from the hatchways, in capotes and blankets, with
dirty nightcaps, grizzly beard, lantern visage and unhappy eye, shivering about the
deck, and ever and anon crawling to the sides of the vessel, and offering up their
tributes to the windward, to infinite annoyance of the captain.
His letters to Mr. Astor, wherein he pours forth the bitterness of his soul, and his
seamanlike impatience of what he considers the "lubberly" character and conduct of
those around him, are before us, and are amusingly characteristic. The honest captain
is full of vexation on his own account, and solicitude on account of Mr. Astor, whose
property he considers at the mercy of a most heterogeneous and wasteful crew.
As to the clerks, he pronounced them mere pretenders, not one of whom had ever been
among the Indians, nor farther to the northwest than Montreal, nor of higher rank than
barkeeper of a tavern or marker of a billiard-table, excepting one, who had been a
school-master, and whom he emphatically sets down for "as foolish a pedant as ever
Then as to the artisans and laborers who had been brought from Canada and shipped
at such expense, the three most respectable, according to the captain's account, were
culprits, who had fled from Canada on account of their misdeeds; the rest had figured
in Montreal as draymen, barbers, waiters, and carriole drivers, and were the most
helpless, worthless beings "that ever broke sea-biscuit."
It may easily be imagined what a series of misunderstandings and cross-purposes
would be likely to take place between such a crew and such a commander. The
captain, in his zeal for the health and cleanliness of his ship, would make sweeping
visitations to the "lubber nests" of the unlucky "voyageurs" and their companions in
misery, ferret them out of their berths, make them air and wash themselves and their
accoutrements, and oblige them to stir about briskly and take exercise.
Nor did his disgust and vexation cease when all hands had recovered from sea-sickness, and become accustomed to the ship, for now broke out an alarming keenness
of appetite that threatened havoc to the provisions. What especially irritated the captain
was the daintiness of some of his cabin passengers. They were loud in their complaints
of the ship's fare, though their table was served with fresh pork, hams, tongues,
smoked beef, and puddings. "When thwarted in their cravings for delicacies," Said he,
"they would exclaim it was d-d hard they could not live as they pleased upon their own
property, being on board of their own ship, freighted with their own merchandise. And
these," added he, "are the fine fellows who made such boast that they could 'eat dogs.'
In his indignation at what he termed their effeminacy, he would swear that he would
never take them to sea again "without having Fly-market on the forecastle, Covent-garden on the poop, and a cool spring from Canada in the maintop. "
As they proceeded on their voyage and got into the smooth seas and pleasant weather
of the tropics, other annoyances occurred to vex the spirit of the captain. He had been
crossed by the irritable mood of one of the partners; he was now excessively annoyed
by the good-humor of another. This was the elder Stuart, who was an easy soul, and of
a social disposition. He had seen life in Canada, and on the coast of Labrador; had
been a fur trader in the former, and a fisherman on the latter; and, in the course of his
experience, had made various expeditions with voyageurs. He was accustomed,
therefore, to the familiarity which prevails between that class and their superiors, and
the gossipings which take place among them when seated round a fire at their
encampments. Stuart was never so happy as when he could seat himself on the deck
with a number of these men round him, in camping style, smoke together, passing the
pipe from mouth to mouth, after the manner of the Indians, sing old Canadian boat-songs, and tell stories about their hardships and adventures, in the course of which he
rivaled Sinbad in his long tales of the sea, about his fishing exploits on the coast of
This gossiping familiarity shocked the captain's notions of rank and subordination, and
nothing was so abhorrent to him as the community of pipe between master and man,
and their mingling in chorus in the outlandish boat-songs.
Then there was another whimsical source of annoyance to him. Some of the young
clerks, who were making their first voyage, and to whom everything was new and
strange, were, very rationally, in the habit of taking notes and keeping journals. This
was a sore abomination to the honest captain, who held their literary pretensions in
great contempt. "The collecting of materials for long histories of their voyages and
travels," said he, in his letter to Mr. Astor, "appears to engross most of their attention."
We can conceive what must have been the crusty impatience of the worthy navigator,
when, on any trifling occurrence in the course of the voyage, quite commonplace in his
eyes, he saw these young landsmen running to record it in their journals; and what
indignant glances he must have cast to right and left, as he worried about the deck,
giving out his orders for the management of the ship, surrounded by singing, smoking,
gossiping, scribbling groups, all, as he thought, intent upon the amusement of the
passing hour, instead of the great purposes and interests of the voyage.
It is possible the captain was in some degree right in his notions. Though some of the
passengers had much to gain by the voyage, none of them had anything positively to
lose. They were mostly young men, in the heyday of life; and having got into fine
latitudes, upon smooth seas, with a well-stored ship under them, and a fair wind in the
shoulder of the sail, they seemed to have got into a holiday world, and were disposed
to enjoy it. That craving desire, natural to untravelled men of fresh and lively minds, to
see strange lands, and to visit scenes famous in history or fable, was expressed by
some of the partners and clerks, with respect to some of the storied coasts and islands
that lay within their route. The captain, however, who regarded every coast and island
with a matter-of-fact eye, and had no more associations connected with them than
those laid down in his sea-chart, considered all this curiosity as exceedingly idle and
childish. "In the first part of the voyage," says he in his letter, "they were determined to
have it said they had been in Africa, and therefore insisted on stopping at the Cape de
Verdes. Next they said the ship should stop on the coast of Patagonia, for they must
see the large and uncommon inhabitants of that place. Then they must go to the island
where Robinson Crusoe had so long lived. And lastly, they were determined to see the
handsome inhabitants of Easter Island."
To all these resolves, the captain opposed his peremptory veto, as "contrary to
instructions." Then would break forth an unavailing explosion of wrath on the part of
certain of the partners, in the course of which they did not even spare Mr. Astor for his
act of supererogation in furnishing orders for the control of the ship while they were on
board, instead of leaving them to be the judges where it would be best for her to touch,
and how long to remain. The choleric M'Dougal took the lead in these railings, being,
as has been observed, a little puffed up with the idea of being Mr. Astor's proxy.
The captain, however, became only so much the more crusty and dogged in his
adherence to his orders, and touchy and harsh in his dealings with the passengers,
and frequent altercations ensued. He may in some measure have been influenced by
his seamanlike impatience of the interference of landsmen, and his high notions of
naval etiquette and quarter-deck authority; but he evidently had an honest, trusty
concern for the interests of his employer. He pictured to himself the anxious projector of
the enterprise, who had disbursed so munificently in its outfit, calculating on the zeal,
fidelity, and singleness of purpose of his associates and agents; while they, on the
other hand, having a good ship at their disposal and a deep pocket at home to bear
them out, seemed ready to loiter on every coast, and amuse themselves in every port.
On the fourth of December they came in sight of the Falkland Islands. Having been for
some time on an allowance of water, it was resolved to anchor here and obtain a
supply. A boat was sent into a small bay to take soundings. Mr. M'Dougal and Mr.
M'Kay took this occasion to go on shore, but with a request from the captain that they
would not detain the ship. Once on shore, however, they were in no haste to obey his
orders, but rambled about in search of curiosities. The anchorage proving unsafe, and
water difficult to be procured, the captain stood out to sea, and made repeated signals
for those on shore to rejoin the ship, but it was not until nine at night that they came on
The wind being adverse, the boat was again sent on shore on the following morning,
and the same gentlemen again landed, but promised to come off at a moment's
warning; they again forgot their promise in their eager pursuit of wild geese and
seawolves. After a time the wind hauled fair, and signals were made for the boat. Half
an hour elapsed but no boat put off. The captain reconnoitered the shore with his glass,
and, to his infinite vexation, saw the loiterers in the full enjoyment of their "wildgoose-chase." Nettled to the quick, he immediately made sail. When those on shore saw the
ship actually under way, they embarked with all speed, but had a hard pull of eight
miles before they got on board, and then experienced but a grim reception,
notwithstanding that they came well laden with the spoils of the chase.
Two days afterwards, on the seventh of December, they anchored at Fort Egmont, in
the same island, where they remained four days taking in water and making repairs.
This was a joyous time for the landsmen. They pitched a tent on shore, had a boat at
their command, and passed their time merrily in rambling about the island, and coasting
along the shores, shooting sealions, seals, foxes, geese, ducks, and penguins. None
were keener in pursuit of this kind of game than M'Dougal and David Stuart; the latter
was reminded of aquatic sports on the coast of Labrador, and his hunting exploits in the
In the meantime the captain addressed himself steadily to the business of his ship,
scorning the holiday spirit and useless pursuits of his emancipated messmates, and
warning them, from time to time, not to wander away nor be out of hail. They promised,
as usual, that the ship should never experience a moment's detention on their account,
but, as usual, forgot their promise.
On the morning of the 11th, the repairs being all finished, and the water casks
replenished, the signal was given to embark, and the ship began to weigh anchor. At
this time several of the passengers were dispersed about the island, amusing
themselves in various ways. Some of the young men had found two inscriptions, in
English, over a place where two unfortunate mariners had been buried in this desert
island. As the inscriptions were worn out by the time and weather, they were playing
the part of "Old Mortality," and piously renewing them. The signal from the ship
summoned them from their labors; they saw the sails unfurled, and that she was getting
under way. The two sporting partners, however, Mr. M'Dougal and David Stuart, had
strolled away to the south of the island in pursuit of penguins. It would never do to put
off without them, as there was but one boat to convey the whole.
While this delay took place on shore, the captain was storming on board. This was the
third time his orders had been treated with contempt, and the ship wantonly detained,
and it should be the last; so he spread all sail and put to sea, swearing he would leave
the laggards to shift for themselves. It was in vain that those on board made
remonstrances and entreaties, and represented the horrors of abandoning men upon a
sterile and uninhabited island; the sturdy captain was inflexible.
In the meantime the penguin hunters had joined the engravers of tombstones, but not
before the ship was already out at sea. They all, to the number of eight, threw
themselves into their boat, which was about twenty feet in length, and rowed with might
and main. For three hours and a half did they tug anxiously and severely at the oar,
swashed occasionally by the surging waves of the open sea, while the ship inexorably
kept on her course, and seemed determined to leave them behind.
On board the ship was the nephew of David Stuart, a young man of spirit and
resolution. Seeing, as he thought, the captain obstinately bent upon abandoning his
uncle and the others, he seized a pistol, and in a paroxysm of wrath swore he would
blow out the captain's brains, unless he put about or shortened sail.
Fortunately for all parties, the wind just then came ahead, and the boat was enabled to
reach the ship; otherwise, disastrous circumstances might have ensued. We can hardly
believe that the captain really intended to carry his threat into full effect, and rather
think he meant to let the laggards off for a long pull and a hearty fright. He declared,
however, in his letter to Mr. Astor, that he was serious in his threats, and there is no
knowing how far such an iron man may push his notions of authority.
"Had the wind," writes he, "(unfortunately) not hauled ahead soon after leaving the
harbor's mouth, I should positively have left them; and, indeed, I cannot but think it an
unfortunate circumstance for you that it so happened, for the first loss in this instance
would, in my opinion, have proved the best, as they seem to have no idea of the value
of property, nor any apparent regard for your interest, although interwoven with their
This, it must be confessed, was acting with a high hand, and carrying a regard to the
owner's property to a dangerous length. Various petty feuds occurred also between
him and the partners in respect to the goods on board ship, some articles of which they
wished to distribute for clothing among the men, or for other purposes which they
deemed essential. The captain, however, kept a mastiff watch upon the cargo, and
growled and snapped if they but offered to touch box or bale. "It was contrary to orders;
it would forfeit his insurance; it was out of all rule." It was in vain they insisted upon
their right to do so, as part owners, and as acting for the good of the enterprise; the
captain only stuck to his point the more stanchly. They consoled themselves, therefore,
by declaring, that as soon as they made land, they would assert their rights, and do
with ship and cargo as they pleased.
Beside these feuds between the captain and the partners, there were feuds between
the partners themselves, occasioned, in some measure, by jealousy of rank. M'Dougal
and M'Kay began to draw plans for the fort, and other buildings of the intended
establishment. They agreed very well as to the outline and dimensions, which were on
a sufficiently grand scale; but when they came to arrange the details, fierce disputes
arose, and they would quarrel by the hour about the distribution of the doors and
windows. Many were the hard words and hard names bandied between them on these
occasions, according to the captain's account. Each accused the other of endeavoring
to assume unwarrantable power, and take the lead; upon which Mr. M'Dougal would
vauntingly lay down Mr. Astor's letter, constituting him his representative and proxy, a
document not to be disputed.
These wordy contests, though violent, were brief; "and within fifteen minutes," says the
captain, "they would be caressing each other like children."
While all this petty anarchy was agitating the little world within the Tonquin, the good
ship prosperously pursued her course, doubled Cape Horn on the 25th of December,
careered across the bosom of the Pacific, until, on the 11th of February, the snowy
peaks of Owyhee were seen brightening above the horizon.