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Sea StoriesThe Earliest Days Of Water-travelling
Once upon a time there were no ships. Men did not kn...
Seamen Wintering In Spitzbergen
On the 30th of August 1633, the Dutch fleet sailed from North-Bay, in
Spitzbergen, leaving seven men behind, who had agreed to winter there.
Immediately, on departure of the vessels, they began to collect a
sufficient quantity of provisions to serve their necessities until
their comrades should return in the subsequent year. Therefore, at
different times, they hunted rein-deer with success, and caught many
sea-fowl; and also occasionally got herbs, which proved very salutary.
Excursions both by sea and land were frequently made when the weather
would permit; and they endeavored to kill whales and narwhals in the
different bays on the east coast of Spitzbergen.
The extreme cold of the climate was announced by the disappearance of
all the feathered tribe on the third of October, and from that time it
gradually augmented. On the 13th their casks of beer were frozen three
inches thick, and very soon afterwards, though standing within eight
feet of the fire, they froze from top to bottom. The seamen had broke
the ice on the sea, and disposed a net for catching fish below it; but
the rigour of the weather constantly increasing, the ice formed a foot
thick at the surface in the space of two hours.
From the excessive cold, they remained almost constantly in bed, and,
notwithstanding they had both a grate and a stove, they were
sometimes obliged to rise and take violent exercise to keep themselves
Beautiful phenomena appeared in the sky during winter, consisting of
the Aurora Borealis, of surprising splendour and magnitude, and other
meteors seeming to arise from the icy mountains.
On the third of March the mariners had an encounter with a monstrous
bear, in which one of them very nearly perished. The animal became
furious from its wounds; leaping against a seaman, about to pierce it
with his lance, it threw him down, and, but for the opportune
interposition of another, would have torn him to pieces.
At length, after suffering many hardships and privations the mariners
were gladdened with the sight of a boat rowing into the bay, on the
27th of May 1634, announcing the return of a Dutch Greenlandman, which
anchored there the same evening.
The Dutch, encouraged by the safety of this party, proposed that other
seven people, provided with all necessaries, should pass the following
winter in their place; and, accordingly, Andrew Johnson, Cornelius
Thysse, Jerome Carcoen, Tiebke Jellis, Nicholas Florison, Adrian
Johnson, and Fettje Otters, offered to remain.
The fleet, therefore, sailed for Holland on the 11th of September
1634, leaving these men behind. Numbers of whales were in sight of
Spitzbergen on the same day, which the people made an unsuccessful
attempt to catch.
Towards the end of November, scurvy beginning to appear among them,
they carefully sought for green herbs, but in vain; nor were they more
fortunate in the pursuit of bears and foxes for fresh provisions.
However, they drank some potions and took other antidotes against the
disease, and then set traps for foxes.
A bear being discovered on the 24th of November, three of the people
eagerly proceeded to attack it, for their necessities were daily
becoming greater. The animal, rising to receive them on its hind legs,
was shot through the body, whereupon it began to bleed and roar most
hideously, and fiercely bit a halbert. But, likely to be overpowered,
it took to flight, and was anxiously pursued by the people a long way,
carrying lanthorns, though unsuccessfully; and they were all much
dispirited from the disappointment of fresh provision, which they so
East Spitzbergen--_page 186_.]
On the 14th of January, Adrian Johnson died. The whole of the rest
were extremely ill. Fettje Otters died next day, and also Cornelius
Thysse on the 17th, a man in whom his comrades rested their chief hope
next to God.
Notwithstanding the weakness of the survivors, who could scarce
support themselves on their legs, they contrived to make three coffins
for the deceased, and put their bodies into them.
In the beginning of February they had the good fortune to catch a fox,
an incident which afforded them much satisfaction, but at that time
disease had gone too far to admit their deriving material benefit from
the flesh. Many bears, even six or ten together were seen; but the
people had not strength to manage their guns, nor, had it been
otherwise, were they able to pursue them. Now they were seized with
excruciating pains about the loins and belly, which were aggravated by
cold. One spit blood, and another was afflicted with a bloody flux;
yet Jerome Carcoen could still bring in fuel to keep up the fires.
The sun had disappeared on the 20th of October, nor was he seen again
until the 24th of February, when the mariners were so weak as to be
constantly confined to their cabins. Two days after, they ceased to be
able to write, at that time expressing themselves in a journal thus:
"Four of us who still survive, lie flat on the floor of our hut. We
think we could still eat, were there only one among us able to get
fuel, but none can move for pain; our time is spent in constant
prayer, that God, in his mercy, would deliver us from this misery; we
are ready whenever he pleases to call us. Assuredly we cannot long
survive without food or firing; we are unable to assist each other in
our mutual afflictions, and each must bear his own burden."
The seamen of the Dutch fleet arriving at Spitzbergen, in 1635,
hastened to inquire after the fate of their comrades; and having found
their hut all closed around as a protection against wild beasts, they
broke open the back door. A man then entering, ran up stairs, where he
discovered part of a dead dog on the floor, laid there to dry, and
quickly descending, trod on the carcass of another dog also dead.
Thence passing towards the front door, he stumbled in the dark over
several dead bodies, which, after the door was opened, were seen lying
together. Three were in coffins; Nicholas Florison and another, each
in a cabin; and the other two on some sails covering the floor, lying
with their knees drawn up to their chins. Therefore the whole of these
unfortunate people had perished.
Coffins were prepared for the four bodies wanting them, and all were
buried under the snow, until the ground became more penetrable, when
they were deposited in the earth beside each other, and stones laid on
their graves, to preserve them from the ravenous beasts of prey.
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