CAPTAIN COOK'S PREDECESSORS, I
But this anchorage was too dangerous. The Florida and the Tamar were in too bad a condition to be equal to the long operation of transhipment. Byron therefore sent one of his petty officers, who had a thorough knowledge of the Strait of Magellan, on board the Florida, and with his two consorts set sail for Port Famine. He met with a French ship so many times in the straits, that it appeared as if she were bent upon the same course as himself. Upon returning to England, he ascertained that she was the Aigle, Captain M. de Bougainville, who was coasting Patagonia in search of the wood needed by the French colony in the Falkland Islands.
During the various excursions in the straits, the English expedition received several visits from the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego.
"I have never seen such wretched beings," says Byron; "they were entirely naked, with the exception of a skin thrown across the shoulders. They offered me the bows and arrows with which they were armed in exchange for beads, necklaces, and other trifles. Their arrows, which were two feet long, were made of cane, and pointed with greenish stone; the bows were three feet long and were furnished with catgut for strings.
"Their nourishment consisted of certain fruits, mussels, and the remains of putrid fish thrown upon the beach during the storms. Pigs only could have relished their food. It consisted of large pieces of whale, already putrified, the odour of which impregnated the air for some distance. One of them tore the carrion in pieces with his teeth, and handed the bits to his companions, who devoured them with the voracity of wild beasts.
"Several of these miserable beings decided to come on board. Wishing to give them a pleasant reception, one of my petty officers played the violin and the sailors danced. This delighted them. Anxious to show their appreciation, one of their number hastened to his pirogue (small boat) and returned with a little bag of wolf-skin, containing a red ointment, with which he rubbed the face of the violinist. He was anxious to pay me the same attention, but I drew back. He then tried every means of overcoming my delicacy, and I had great difficulty in avoiding the mark of esteem he was so anxious to give me."
|"One of them tore the carrion with his teeth."|
It will not be out of place here to record the opinion held by Byron, an experienced seaman, upon the advantages and disadvantages offered to the passage through the Straits of Magellan. He does not agree with the majority of navigators who have visited these latitudes. He says,—
"Our account of the difficulties and dangers we encountered may lead to the idea that it is not prudent to attempt this passage, and that ships leaving Europe for the southern seas, should prefer to double Cape Horn. I am by no means of this opinion, although I have twice doubled Cape Horn. There is one season in the year when not only one ship, but an entire fleet, might safely cross the straits, and to profit by this season one should enter them in the month of December. One inestimable advantage which should weigh with all navigators is that celery, scurvy-grass, fruits, and other anti-scorbutic vegetables abound. Such obstacles as we encountered, and which delayed us from the 17th of February till the 8th of April in the straits, were mainly due to the equinoctial season, a season which is invariably stormy, and which, more than once, tried our patience."
Until the 26th of April, the day upon which they found Mas-a-Fuero, belonging to the Juan Fernandez group, Byron had sailed to the N.W. He hastened to disembark several sailors, who after obtaining water and wood, chased wild goats, which they found better flavoured than venison in England.
During their stay in this port, a singular fact occurred. A violent surf broke over the shore, and prevented the shore-boats from reaching the strand. Although he was provided with a life-belt, one of the sailors, who could not swim, refused to jump into the sea to reach the boat. Threatened with being left alone on the island, he still persistently refused to venture, when one of his companions cleverly encircled his waist with a cord, in which he had made a running knot, and one end of which was made fast to the boat. When he reached the vessel, Hawksworth's narrative relates, that the unfortunate fellow had swallowed so much water that he appeared lifeless. He was accordingly hung up by the heels, whereupon he soon regained his senses, and the next day was completely restored. But in spite of this truly wonderful recovery, we can hardly venture to recommend this course of treatment to humane rescue societies.
Leaving Mas-a-Fuero, Byron changed his route, with the intention of seeking Davis Land, now known as Easter Island, which was placed by geographers in 27° 30', a hundred leagues westward of the American coast. Eight days were devoted to this search.
Having found nothing after this cruise, which he was unable to prolong, Byron, following his intention of visiting the Solomon group, steered for the north-west. Upon the 22nd of May scurvy broke out on board the vessels, and quickly made alarming havoc.
Fortunately land was perceived from the look-out on the 7th of June in 140° 58' west longitude.