Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

School of Whales

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 5

Once when Larson was loading lobsters into the Juan Fernandez, as we called our little schooner, Josh Slocum, the skipper of the famous Spray cutter, visited the island.

“Larson,” he said, “yon’s a bonnie little boat, although she’s only 17 tons. Built of oak and pretty near as broad as she’s long, you need never fear facing any sea on the surface of the globe in her, if you’ll only do as I tell you. When foul weather threatens, don’t wait till the storm is on you, but heave to, and out with the oil bags. At sunset, if the wind freshens, heave to and read or smoke in comfort. The sea need never trouble you. All you have to fear is whales.” I thought this was very excellent advice.

Slocum took a big lump of sandstone away with him, from Alexander Selkirk’s cave. He said he intended to make good money on it when he returned to New York. “Every guy who wants to see it, will have to pay half a dollar,” he declared; and those who wish to sit on it must shell out double.” £20,000 was, I believe, the sum he expected to receive over his trip round the globe.

Slocum’s mention of smoking in comfort reminds me of a laughable instance in which old Harry figured. We had left Valparaiso on November 30. It doesn’t signify what year. I only mention the month, because, in that part of the world, summer begins on November 1, and I like folk to understand the atmospheric conditions that prevailed on the occasion under notice. Four days out, we got becalmed, so I amused myself by diving and swimming in the sea. A long line was attached to my body, and fastened to the ship’s ladder, so that in an emergency I could haul myself in pretty quick. “Sharks?” Well, yes, they are inclined to be playful at times.

A day or so after, the breeze sprang up and we got a move on. Old Harry was sitting on the rails smoking his pipe. Larson cried out to him, “Ahoy, there! Mind you don’t get a bath with all your clothes on.” Harry laughed, and grunted “I’ve done this sort of thing, man and boy, for fifty year and more, without falling off, and I ain’t likely to do it now.” Whether he dozed or not, I can’t say, but less than half an hour later we heard a great “plop,” and lo! and behold! there was our poor old friend struggling in the sea, and fast drifting astern. He had slipped off his perch with his pipe in his mouth! I chucked him a rope, and we soon hauled him back again.

Two days passed and then we sighted a school of whales. One big fellow kept close company with us for a couple of hours, diving first one side, then the other of the ship. Being longer than our craft, we were fearful lest he might capsize us. Larson suggested I should get my rifle, and take pot shots at him. He thought that would frighten the monster fish away. I had, however, good reason to know better, for I had only lately been reading an account in the Liverpool Mercury of how a whale served a ship when treated in that fashion. It was headed in big black letters, and narrated that after a passenger had fired off twice, the whale turned and charged the vessel repeatedly. If my memory serves me, the boat referred to was a big Yokohama steamer. When I showed the paper to Larson, he said, “Oh, that would never do! The whole caboodle might come for us, and then where should we be?” So he hove to, for, I suppose, about a couple of hours, during which the whale continued to frolic around, but each time it dived it increased its distance from us, until finally it got lost to sight. So we reached Juan Fernandez without mishap.

Formerly, sandalwood was very plentiful on the island, but of late it has become extremely scarce. Smart walking sticks are manufactured of it. I had two dozen made for me—one stick I gave to my father, one I passed on to Lutges, and one I retained for myself. The remainder I disposed of to dealers in Valparaiso at £2 apiece. and they got fancy prices for them.

Cranberries, myrtles, strawberries and raspberries grow wild in many parts of Juan Fernandez. It is said strawberries originated in Chile. That is the opinion held by several learned botanists at any rate. According to island tradition, however, the Chilian varieties were developed from the wild ones of Juan Fernandez. The island berries are about the size of Royal Sovereigns. There are two sorts, white and red. They grow quite wild. They are not looked after and cultivated by expert horticulturists like my friend James Reynolds; and yet I have never seen any English berries to equal them in appearance or flavour.

The wild cherries also are very fine. As for the figs, on one occasion H.M.S. Amphion put in at the island for a matter of three days. Several of her officers, including Captain Phyllis—now Admiral—Commander Hawke, and Lieut. Browell—son of General Browell—spent most of their time with me. They said they had never tasted such luscious figs, not even in Smyrna.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

God Alone Can Save Us Now

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 4

My other nerve-racking experience occurred on the Adriatico, a three-masted schooner of 250 tons. She put into Juan Fernandez on her way from Corral to Valparaiso, in order to ship copper bolts, etc., resulting from the wreck of the Upper Hammoc, which Fonck had purchased. She had also to pick up three horses I was taking to the mainland. Timmie, her captain, was a Dane, and a real good sort. He let me have a nice big cabin all to myself. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that no Plimsoll mark was visible. I took him to task about this. “Oh, that’s all right,” he said, “look at the glass. The weather is beautiful, and will continue so, at any rate, until we reach Val.” I allowed myself to be persuaded against my better judgment; so, with the help of Larson and his men, I hoisted my horses on board. At the same time I shipped a cargo of 300 ferns. Timmie said Fonck wouldn’t charge any freightage for them, but the horses cost me £18.

We started on July 21, with a fair wind and a good sea. The Adriatico bowled along at a fine pace. Timmie was in high spirits. He expected to do the journey in five days, so he said. All went well for forty-eight hours, and then our troubles began. First we were becalmed for a matter of five days. After that the weather broke, and seemed to be blowing up for a storm. Two days later we were in the thick of it. Lashed into a fury, the waves rose mountains high all round our devoted barque. The wind blew a full gale, and every now and then rain fell in biting squalls.

Said I to the skipper, “Timmie, old man, your craft looks like coming a mucker.” “What makes you say that?” he inquired. “Because,” I continued, “she goes like a log, and don’t give and take to the motion of the waves.”

“Hang presentiments!” replied Timmie, “I don’t like them. All the same, there is something in what you say; the boat lies just like a log. Maybe she has sprung a leak.”

With that he left me, and went to take soundings. An hour passed before he returned, and said, “Let’s go into the saloon.” When we got there he produced some whisky and Apollinaris, and poured out two glasses of the mixture. Then he pointed to his chart. “Here we are,” he said, “260 miles from the mainland, and the boat is making water fast. All hands are at the pumps, including the cook, and I myself am relieving the man at the wheel. Now, will you busy yourself making Bovril, tea, cocoa, sandwiches and other things, and hand them round to the pumpers? That is our only chance. We must keep them going, or we are beat.” Needless to say, I willingly complied.

Three hours later he told me the water was gaining on the pumps, and he felt sure the boat could not keep afloat more than twenty hours at longest. In all probability, her fate and ours would be sealed in another twelve. We were only making six knots an hour. God alone can save us now,” he said. “No boat could live in this raging sea.” So we turned to the Almighty, and prayed to Him fervently several times that night. I have no doubt whatever that He answered our prayers; for, although the glass continued to go down, by about seven o’clock the next morning the storm abated, and the sea subsided. Within a few short hours the weather was as nice as one could wish. Timmie and I and the sailors thanked the Lord for all His mercies, and felt like new men.

Timmie steered for the nearest land, intending to beach the vessel on the sandy coast ere the wind got up again. When, however, we got abreast of the lighthouse, about forty miles from Valparaiso, they signalled us, and sent a tug to escort us in. One of the owners of the Adriatico came aboard. He was in a sad state of mind, and greatly agitated. He begged me not to report our vessel’s shortcomings to the Port Captain. If I did so his firm would be ruined. I took him severely to task, and told him they had evidently cared not a rap what became of Timmie and those who travelled with him. To send the vessel to sea in an unseaworthy state was a shameful act, and deserving of drastic punishment. This dressing down quite broke him up, and he became so abject in his pleading, that I really felt almost sorry to see a fellow-man so abased. I reflected, too, that we had been shown great mercy, hence it was up to me to be not over hard. So, after extracting his solemn promise that nothing of the sort should ever occur again, I said I would let the matter drop. When the affair had blown over a little while, Timmie visited me at my stables in Vina del Mar. He said he had been offered a much larger ship, but had made up his mind to retire, and take on a job as master of a tug. I told him I didn’t blame him. Subsequently he was appointed Government Surveyor of ships, and he and his wife often spent an afternoon with me at my stables, when I was training for Penny, Subercasieux and others. We neither of us forgot our thrilling experience, and never met without some reference to the extraordinary manner in which the storm had subsided, when everything, including the glass, seemed to indicate that it would increase in volume.

My loss on this trip was a big one. Three hundred pounds worth of ferns had to be chucked overboard, and two of my horses died within a couple of days of being landed. Strange to say, the surviving horse was the least robust of the three. When he had recovered from the effect of the voyage, I sold him to the Tramway Company for £20.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

We’re Gorners

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 3

Generally speaking, I had very good luck with my fern cargoes. Two lots I sent to my father arrived at Kington in perfect order, and took to their new home in splendid fashion; but I had rotten hard lines with those consigned for King Edward and for Kew. I spent extra pains, had them specially packed, and most carefully stowed away in the hold of the schooner. They arrived at Vina del Mar in fine condition, and were then taken charge of by Lutges. The latter gave strict orders to his gardeners to let them have very special attention, and there is no doubt his orders were implicitly obeyed. When I called on Sharp, the popular manager of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., he asked me whether I meant to send the ferns carriage forward to England, or pay the freightage myself. I inquired what the charges would amount to. “Something like £35,” he replied. “In that case,” I said, “they had better go ‘carriage forward.’” “Where to?” was his next question. I told him. “Marlborough House!” he exclaimed. “Then we couldn’t dream of making any charge whatever. The whole ship is at His Royal Highness’s disposal.” Sharp, like the good fellow he was, made special arrangements for the housing of the ferns aboard ship, so that they should not be subjected to sudden variations of temperature, etc., and detailed a man to look after them till they reached the end of their voyage. But unfortunately, when nearing Finisterre, the vessel encountered very rough weather. The sea raged mountains high, flooding the engine-room near to which the precious cargo was located, and pretty well drowning the life out of the ferns. When they reached England my father’s head gardener, Sheppard, and his assistants, did their utmost to resuscitate them, but, alas! their efforts were of no avail. After all the precautions I had taken, this was a sad blow to me, for I had counted on their arriving in extra good fettle. There is one peculiarity about these ferns I should mention. When transplanted to foreign soil they flourish especially well for five years or so, and then rapidly deteriorate.

Most of my lobster and fern trips proved uneventful. On two occasions, however, I was nearly wrecked. Once we were taking 500 lobsters and 115 tree ferns to the mainland. The lobsters cost Fonck and me 2½ cents each, and we looked to make at least sixpence profit on every one we landed in good condition.

On our first trip we had got 3s. and 4s. apiece for them, in the Valparaiso and Santiago shops; but, subsequently, found it more advantageous to dispose of them to dealers, who came to the ship for them. We should have done fairly well but for the great mortality among the crustaceans. Rarely more than 60 per cent. arrived in marketable condition. The tree ferns were for the Cousino Palace at Santiago. Four days out from Juan Fernandez we ran into very heavy weather. A terrible wind lashed the waves till they raged horribly. I kept asking Larson, the skipper, when he was going to heave to. He always replied, “Oh, I think we’ll hold on just a little longer.” “Very well, my good fellow,” I observed, “ but it looks to me as if you may hold on too long, if you don’t watch it.” All of a sudden an enormous wave struck us amidships. As our little craft heeled right over on her side, Larson shouted—

“Oh, my God! We’re gorners.”

“Rats! ” I cried. “Come and give me a hand, and help heave this over.” So saying, I bashed in the head of a 63-gallon cask of shark oil with an axe I had picked up on the cabin step.

“Whatever will Fonck say?” ejaculated Larson.

“Go to Putney!” I said. “Isn’t your life, and Martin’s and Charlie’s and mine, worth more than a spot of oil?”

“Oh, well,” he agreed, “I suppose you’re right. Anyway, half the oil belongs to you.”

Without further parley, we set about dumping the stuff overboard. And not a moment too soon, for another wallop would have made our vessel turn turtle completely. The effect was simply marvellous! Directly the oil touched the face of the raging waters, it seemed to break the waves down; so that in a very short space of time the sea, for a considerable distance round, was as smooth as a duck pond. Our immediate danger was over, we had to see about righting the ship. This was a lob attended with not a little danger, for our cargo had shifted. Everything was pretty well upside down, and the cook’s galley and our solitary boat had been swept away astern. All the ferns had to be sacrificed, but what went even more against the grain was having to part with our two goats. Most of our provisions had to go; in fact, when we took stock, we found we had to subsist on a few loaves of bread, a small bag of split peas, some tins of beef, and a dozen or two lobsters until we reached port.

Larson and Co. doffed their hats to me, for thinking of the oil, saying I had undoubtedly saved their lives. I told them it was not so; but only a merciful Providence that had put the idea into my head, while they themselves stood gaping around. I could not resist quoting Cowper’s beautiful words—

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Fortunately our two casks of fresh water were spared to us, so we were able to make up the peas into soup. On this meagre fare, eked out with two tins of beef, we subsisted eleven days, during six of which we were hove to. Still we didn’t do too badly, for Larson and I had each a couple of bottles of whisky, and two dozen Apollinaris water, while Martin and Charlie had four bottles of rum between them. Larson and I only indulged in two drinks a day, hence our liquor lasted out well. but Charlie soon put paid to his rum. I think what we missed most was our store of condensed milk and sugar. Whilst we were hove to, we found great benefit from the oil. At my suggestion, Larson trailed two bags instead of one. When the storm abated on the seventh day, we found we were 243 miles off our track, and about 120 miles north of Coquimbo!

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

Fern Briton

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 2

The breaking up of the wreck occupied four months. We salved an enormous amount of copper and brass, as may be seen, when I mention that after Brown and his men had been paid their share of the profits, I received 856 dollars (gold), in addition to the chalet (valued at 1700), and all the timber.

In my spare time, i.e. when the weather hampered our operations, I fossicked about a lot. It struck me that there was a good opening for a smoked fish factory. Accordingly I busied myself in inquiring into the various methods of curing the finny monsters that frequented the waters round about the island. I soon discovered overwhelming proof that if you want to get the best results, there is nothing like oak. So I used to smoke my fish with oak chips, very slightly sprinkled with eucalyptus leaves. This gave them a distinctive and delicious flavour. I turned Kuhn’s carpenters’ shed into a smoke room; and, within a very short space of time, had every available person on the island employed in catching fish for me. I paid at the rate of 3s. per quintal, weighed without heads and backbones. My fishing-ground extended to the adjacent islands of Santa Clara and Mas-a-fuera (Spanish for “further off”), so I got plenty of material to work upon; but I made a rule never to accept a fish landed after 12 o’clock noon.

To give some idea of the vast quantities of fish in these waters, I may say that on one occasion I went out in my flat-bottomed punt with Waldimar Fisher, my old henchman, and caught 403 lb. of cod and corbina between the hours of 2 and 6.30 p.m. Waldimar looked after the boat, while I fished with a stout line and big hook. Frequently I got fast on to a monster that required our united efforts to haul in. Some had heads as big as a small calf’s. I disposed of my catch to an Italian named Cardoni, whose wife was a most beautiful woman. He—well, I hardly know what he did with it, but have my suspicions. My 12 o’clock rule was a very hard-and-fast one; still there are ways of evading every rule.

I soon made headway with my factory. One of my best customers was Weir, Scott & Co., who had a big store on the mainland. They gave me 30s. per quintal for the finished article. Don’t, however, run away with the idea that I made a profit of 27s. on the quintal. In the first place, it takes three quintals of wet fish to make one quintal of cured. Then there is the expense attached to washing, hanging, salting, drying, pressing and boxing to be taken into consideration Nevertheless, I made good money every month.

To occupy my spare time, I made arrangements with various wealthy people, such as the Cousinos, Minchin, Penny and Lutges (the owner of the magnificent hotel at Vina del Mar), to supply them with some of the ferns for which Juan Fernandez is famous. I was to receive £150 for each cargo of 100 tree ferns that I landed on the mainland. How to get them over there, was the trouble. Well, I soon got round that. I went half-shares in a seventeen-ton schooner that Fonck had bought at a forced sale. It had cost its late owner £2000 to build. Fonck got it for £400. It was constructed of oak, and suited my purpose admirably. Altogether I sent across seven consignments.

A few words descriptive of Juan Fernandez may not be out of place here. It is a little island, 365 miles west of Valparaiso, so replete in natural attractions as to be considered one of the most enchanting spots on God’s earth. It is even more a lazy man’s paradise than Peru, and that is saying a lot. Lofty hills, slumbering valleys, purling streams, and wonderfully varied vegetation, form a combination that exerts an irresistible influence on visitors. Its rocky, precipitous headlands, and irregular pinnacle-shaped formations, are particularly striking. The highest point above sea-level is called El Yunqui, i.e. the anvil. It is shaped exactly like that useful appanage of the smithy, and is apparently unclimbable.

Years ago, when the island was used as a convict settlement, the Chilian government offered 5000 dollars (gold) and a free pardon to any prisoner who scaled the eminence and planted the national flag on top. Two convicts tried their luck. One gave up the attempt when he reached the base of the anvil. The other persevered, and looked like accomplishing the feat; but just when success seemed within measurable distance, he lost his foothold and fell headlong into the forest below. He was never seen or heard of again.

Geologically considered, the formation is basalt, greenstone, and trap tuffs. There are altogether twenty-four species of ferns that are in general request, growing on this lovely island; four of them are of special interest. One of these—the Helecho fernandisciana—is only found on Juan Fernandez. I have this on the authority of Sir Thistleton Dyer, who wrote to Sir Audley Gosling on the subject. I forget the name of one of the species, but the other two are the rare Helecho brunato and Helecho dicksonia. Of ordinary kinds of ferns, such as maiden-hair, etc., Juan Fernandez boasts at least twenty. These grow luxuriantly in the valleys and creeks, and between the crevices of the rocks.

The paths leading up to the hills are bordered with beautiful flowers. Among these may be noted many wonderful ground orchids. Near the coast one frequently comes across enormous patches of arum lilies. The Panque also grows here. It has tremendous leaves like rhubarb, which have a peculiarity all their own, for they hold water. I have often poured half a bucket of water into a leaf over-night, and found it next day not the least diminished. This plant has blooms resembling a hyacinth, only three times as big, with an orange and scarlet centre.

The Disciana is like a small tree fern, but has leaves like a maiden-hair. This species is very rare. I was able to include one or two in my cargoes ordered from the mainland. Subsequently I sent a few to England for my father and King Edward, then Prince of Wales. At Sir Thistleton’s request, conveyed through Sir Audley Gosling, I obtained specimens of the Panque, the Helecho fernandisciana and the Chonta palm for Kew Gardens. Like the Panque, the latter is indigenous to Juan Fernandez. The order for King Edward’s ferns also came from Sir Audley Gosling, who said His Royal Highness would be very pleased if I could get them for him. I was, of course, only too delighted to comply with the command so graciously expressed, and made a special trip to fulfil it. My ordinary cargoes of ferns consisted of from 100 to 120 specimens, the tallest of which measured 22 ft. I had to consider the capacity of my hold, or I might have shipped some even larger. They grow 30 ft. and over in height. I like those best that range from 8 to 12 ft.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

Breaking Up the Telegraph

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 1

At the time when poor Kemmis went broke, and there was nothing doing Las Rosas way, it behoved me to look round for another job. I didn’t believe in loafing about Santiago, on the chance of something turning up. So I broke altogether new ground. Hearing that Kuhn & Co. had bought the wreck of the Telegraph, stranded at the isle of Juan Fernandez, I got in touch with them and obtained the job of superintending her breaking up. If it were possible to do so at a profit, I had to bring her over to the mainland. Captain Bruhn’s powerful tug, the Pachuco, was commissioned for the purpose. In addition to her own complement, she carried an auxiliary crew of eight men under Captain Brown to man the Telegraph.

Two days after arriving at the island, the tug took the hulk in hand, and hauled her out to sea. For a little while, everything in the garden looked lovely, but soon the effects of being so long laid by became apparent. Captain Brown reported she was leaking like a sieve all round. But although the pumps couldn’t keep pace with the inrush of water, he wanted to hold on his way. He felt quite sure, he said, that he could get her to Valparaiso all right. He would, however, be guided by us, i.e. Bruhn and myself. Now Kuhn had promised him an additional £500, plus £50 for each member of his crew, if he made the mainland, so one could understand why he was anxious to proceed.

Bruhn and I both considered the matter sympathetically, but came to the conclusion that Brown must abandon the attempt. Bruhn was afraid to take the risk, although he stood to have £150 of Brown’s £500. It was all very well, he said, so long as the weather continued favourable; but suppose a norther sprang up? There was plenty of time for such an occurrence, as ’twould take us four to six days to get to Valparaiso. Brown scoffed at his fears, but eventually agreed that I should act as referee. Now I was interested in Brown’s project to the extent of £100, but I had great respect for Bruhn’s judgment, and I didn’t feel inclined to run any extra risk on the off chance of getting £100. Besides, the vessel was really leaking very badly. So I decided against the venture. “About ship” was then the order of the day. Back we went to Juan Fernandez with all sails set, and finally beached the Telegraph high and dry.

Bruhn returned to Valparaiso to report to Kuhn, while I remained on the spot to superintend the breaking-up process. I started by engaging a ship’s carpenter named Arrendondo to assist. Arrendondo had lived on the island twenty-three years. He had originally been a whaler, but suffered so much from sea-sickness that he had been compelled to seek more congenial employment. While thus engaged, he hit upon Juan Fernandez, and found it so much to his liking that he decided to settle down there. When he joined the whaling enterprise he had invested £2000 in the company of which August Müller was the principal director. Whilst he was connected with the affair his original capital swelled to £4000. Directly he decided to make the island his permanent home, Arrendondo wrote Müller and asked him to send him over a couple of draught oxen, some stores and tools, and £2000 cash. Müller, of course, complied, like the good fellow he was. Arrendondo intended to buy a coffee estate with the money, but things didn’t pan out as he hoped, so he deposited the £2000 under the floor of his cabin in a little iron safe.

I got Arrendondo and his two sons to construct a chalet out of the stout oak beams we found in the Telegraph. They made a rattling good job of it too. We fixed it up with the saloon and cabin furniture, and by the time we had finished it looked quite top hole.

Kuhn now appeared upon the scene, to arrange matters finally with me. The offer he made seemed to me a very fair one. I was to get the chalet and one-sixth of the copper and brass we salved, plus all the timber. It seemed a paying proposition, for besides copper sheathing and bolts galore, and a plenitude of brasswork, the Telegraph carried three good heavy anchors and chains. Last, but certainly not least, her massive figurehead was a Venus, composed wholly of copper. Therefore I looked like doing pretty well out of the metals. Anyhow, the job would fill in my time profitably until I got into harness again on the turf.