Sea Stories

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 in heat. 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 much required. 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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