The Author's reasons for undertaking a voyage of discovery.--He builds a vessel for his purpose upon a new plan.--His departure from the United States.
In the year 1817, I projected a voyage of discovery, in the hope of finding a passage to a new and untried world. I flattered myself that I should open the way to new fields for the enterprise of my fellow-citizens, supply new sources of wealth, fresh food for curiosity, and additional means of enjoyment; objects of vast importance, since the resources of the known world have been exhausted by research, its wealth monopolized, its wonders of curiosity explored, its every thing investigated and understood!
The state of the civilized world, and the growing evidences of the perfectibility of the human mind, seemed to indicate the necessity of a more extended sphere of action. Discontent and uneasiness were every where apparent. The faculties of man had begun to dwindle for want of scope, and the happiness of society required new and more copious contributions.
I reasoned with myself as follows: A bountiful Providence provides food for the appetite which it creates; therefore the desire of mankind for a greater world to bustle in, manifested by their dissatisfaction with the one which they possess, is sufficient evidence that the means of gratification are provided. And who can doubt but that this is the time to find the means of satisfying so general a desire?
A great obstacle presented itself at the outset. The aid of steam in the navigation of my ship, was necessary to render my enterprise safe and expeditious against the adverse circumstances which I was sure to meet. But steam vessels were adapted only to smooth water. Every attempt to employ them upon the ocean had been unsuccessful. I foresaw that I must have a vessel capable of encountering severe gales in a dense atmosphere, of being rapidly impelled against strong currents, both of wind and water, and of surmounting, without harm, the impetuous tides, and resisting the violent winds to be expected in the polar seas. Moreover, she must be of such strength as to sustain the shock of floating ice, or of taking the ground; and of such capacity as to contain fuel and provisions for at least fifty men for three years, with apartments from which the external air could be excluded, and which might be artificially warmed during the rigours of a polar winter.
But he whose soul is fired with the true spirit of discovery, is not to be dismayed. I saw the end, and instantly began to use the means of attaining it. I caused a steam vessel of 400 tons to be constructed with double frames; the timbers being inclined from a perpendicular about 45 degrees; so that the outer set crossed the others at right angles. The timbers were let into each other to the depth of three inches, and were secured by powerful bolts. This structure of massive grating was incalculably firmer than the frame of a ship could possibly be made upon the ordinary plan. The bottom was covered with four inch plank, over which, after they were fastened and caulked, a layer of three inch plank was put on; and the whole was sheathed with copper of unusual thickness.
I remembered the misfortune of the discoverer Sindbad, whose ship, when he approached the magnetic mountain, fell to pieces, in consequence of the iron being all drawn out of it. To guard against a similar disaster, I fastened my vessel first with tree-nails, and then throughout with copper bolts firmly rivetted and clenched. To obviate the dangers of exposed and upright paddles, I built her with double top-sides for a space of thirty feet. Within this space the inner frames sloped in from the bends, on an angle of 45 degrees, and were covered and finished, in all respects, like the sides of a common ship. The outer work was carried up in the usual manner, so that the aperture was not apparent to external observation. Through this outer side a longitudinal port was cut, 30 feet long and 3 feet wide, for the paddles to play through obliquely, like the fins of a seal. The nave of the wheel was two feet within the sill of the port, between the double walls, and supported by both of them. The blades of the paddles, made of the best ash timber, and firmly coaked and rivetted together, were fitted into sockets in the nave; whence they could be easily unshipped for the purpose of closing the ports in bad weather, and rendering the vessel perfectly secure, with the paddles inboard. The shaft by which the power of steam was communicated to the paddles, passed through the inner side of the ship only, so that water could not be forced into the ship, even in the roughest weather, when the ports were closed. The inconvenience caused by the rolling of a vessel with upright wheels, was avoided by the obliquity of my paddles; the ship never rolling so much as to bring them to a perpendicular, or dip the nave to which they were fastened. To avoid accidents from fire, I built beneath and on the sides of the furnace and boiler of the engine, two narrow cisterns, perfectly tight, and of incombustible materials. These were kept constantly filled with the waste water of the engine, which was allowed to escape only by a spout at the top. No fire was permitted out of this enclosure. The economy of fuel, which was necessary from the length of the voyage, and from the emergencies which might happen, obliged me to adopt all the means of motion in my power. I therefore rigged my vessel as a ketch, with one large mast, and a long sliding topmast, which could be easily launched or sent up by the assistance of the engine; and a small mast abaft fitted to be struck at pleasure.
Having thus constructed a vessel which possessed the qualities most essential to my purpose, I finished the interior in such manner as I judged best calculated to render myself and people comfortable during the voyage. I took care to have one apartment large enough to contain all my crew. This was situated next to the furnace chamber, and had communication with it, by means of a tight covered passage. By a tube from the furnace, heated air could be conveyed to this apartment, and steam from the boiler by another tube, should the state of the air at any time require it.
Confident that, with this vessel, I could reach any place to which there was a passage by water, whether on the external or internal world, I named her the Explorer.
I furnished her with abundant stores for three years; among which were large supplies of dried and preserved vegetables and fruits, pickles, acids, and other anti-scorbutics. The room not occupied by water and provisions, was filled with coal. Thinking I might meet with regions where none but salt water could be had, from land, sea, or clouds, I took on board one of Youle's cambouses for converting salt into fresh water. Besides the best of cables, both of iron and hemp, and an extra supply of common and ice anchors, I failed not to provide one launch, as large as could be carried on deck, and four whale boats.
My next care was to select my officers and crew from among the most skilful, temperate, and orderly mariners I could find; whom I shipped for a sealing voyage in the South Seas, having a clause in the articles authorizing me to cruize and seek for seal wherever I might judge proper, for the term of three years. The crew consisted of 4 mates, 1 boatswain, 1 boatswain's mate, 3 engineers, 4 carpenters, 3 blacksmiths, 2 coopers, and 32 seamen; in all, 50 men, besides myself. In addition to a portable forge, and materials for repairing any damage which might happen to the engine, I took, on the suggestion of the chief blacksmith, duplicates of such parts of the engine as were most liable to fail. Of nautical instruments, chronometers, and books treating upon matters in any way connected with my object, I provided liberally. Least of all, did I omit Symmes's Memoirs, and printed Lectures. Finally, having completed my arrangements, and settled all my affairs, I took leave of my wife and children, whom, as I had no particular friends, I left to the humanity and kindness of the world, and set sail on the 1st day of August, 1817.
The Author arrives at the Falkland Islands--Describes West Point Island, and States harbour--Visits the city of the Gentoo Penguins on the Grand Jason--Gives some account of the polity and habits of those civilized amphibia--Sails for South Georgia.
I soon had cause to congratulate myself on my ingenuity. My fin paddles worked to admiration. When the wind failed, I could, by setting the engine in motion, propel my vessel at the rate of 12 knots per hour; and with a favourable wind, and under a press both of canvass and steam, found it easy to drive her at the rate of 16 knots.
With such advantages, there was no necessity of going the roundabout passage to gain the trade wind. I therefore stood straight for Cape St. Roque. Whether I did or did not see a flying fish, catch a dolphin, or observe a black whirling cloud called a water-spout, is of very little importance to the world. On the sixteenth day after leaving port, we saw the land of Cape St. Roque, in South America, and on the twenty-fourth, anchored in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro, having experienced the usual changes of wind and weather, and discovered that air and water are much the same elements, and are governed by much the same laws, at sea as on shore.
I entered this harbour under sail, with the paddle ports closed, that no suspicion might be excited; my object in calling at this place being only to provide myself with live stock and fruits. I took on board two fine horses, four mules, two cows, with calves, a parcel of pigs, sheep, and goats, with a quantity of fruit and vegetables; and, on the 26th of August, sailed again.
On the 4th of September, we entered the harbour of West Point, Falkland Islands. Here I had determined to pass a month for the benefit of my health, which a short passage by water had not completely restored, from the debility occasioned by the vexations and anxieties of business in those retrograde times, and the pernicious habits of living, common among civilized men, upon food rendered palateable by a skilful admixture of poisons. These Islands being incontestibly in the healthiest region of the globe, I believed that, by a short stay amongst them, I should regain the firm health so necessary to a man who undertakes great things; and at the same time, by employing my people in sealing, learn them how to manage the boats, to land through a surf, and to execute all the difficult and dangerous operations, incident to the occupation of explorers of unknown shores. At the same time, I should be pursuing the ostensible object of my voyage; a matter very necessary to be kept in view, for my people were engaged on shares of what should be obtained by their industry.
The first day was devoted partly to preparations for a sealing excursion to the Jason Islands, and partly to recreation. West Point Island abounds with hogs and goats, the hunting of which is both pleasant for exercise, and profitable by supplying excellent food. Here are no tangled forests to embarrass the sportsman, nor bushes or briars to annoy his clothes or his flesh. Neither are there gnats, moschetos, sand-flies, snakes, scorpions, or other reptiles, to render every step dangerous or painful. Near the shore, which is fringed with granite rocks, a border of tussoc extends around the island, like a belt, of from one-eighth to a quarter of a mile in width. The tussoc flag grows from the top of a bog formed apparently by the roots of the plants which had flourished and decayed on the spot for many successive years. The bogs are, usually, three to five feet in height, and one to three feet in diameter. The substance of them resembles cork, though it is less compact. They stand irregularly one to two feet asunder, so as to afford convenient room for a passage between them, in every direction, over a foundation of much the same substance as the bogs themselves, which is usually quite dry. The dry white tussoc grass of preceding years hangs round the top of the bog like a broad frill; while the fresh green growth, which waves over the top like a tuft of lofty feathers, gives the whole, when viewed from a distance, the aspect of an extensive field of indian corn. The root of the fresh tussoc is pleasant to the palate, being much like the meat of a chestnut, and it affords an abundance of excellent feed to the hogs, that enjoy an elysium here. Within this border of tussoc, and from it to the steep ascent of the mountains, a region of grass intervenes, which has the appearance of a rich upland meadow. It grows about knee high, and extends as far as the rise of the land is moderate. Beyond it, short mountain grass and a few heath plants are found contending with fragments of granite, and with the polar blasts to which the lofty summit of the mountain is exposed. It was delightful, after a confinement on ship-board, to ramble over this sequestered and pleasant scene; to chase the wild hogs from their tussoc covert to the rising grounds, where they were sure victims of the spear or the bullet; and to invade from above the retreats of the gigantic albatross, in the cliffs of perpendicular rocks, a thousand feet above the sea.