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Three Years in Tristan da Cunha By K. M. Barrow Characters: 6117

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On the early morning of the eighth day-it was Palm Sunday-the mountainous cliffs of Tristan could dimly be discerned. My husband had gone up on deck two or three times while it was yet dusk to see if land was visible; while I kept looking out of the porthole, although it was not a very large outlook. At about four o'clock he dressed and wrote several letters. At six o'clock, accompanied by Rob, I went on to the lower deck and could see Tristan enshrouded in mist. At about nine o'clock we arrived opposite the settlement. A high wind was blowing and the sea was rough. But this did not prevent the islanders setting off in two of their canvas boats to board the steamer. It was with great interest I went on deck to speak to them. I was greeted by an Italian, who in broken English said-

"It not very comfortable for a lady."

They said it was too rough for us to land at the settlement, but that if we went back eight or nine miles round to another part of the island landing would be possible. It did not take long to steam back, but it took many hours to land the luggage. This was done under the direction of the third officer by a ship's boat manned by several passengers, who were most keen to help, and by the two island boats. But it was done under considerable difficulty, "a dangerous swell running on to a steep pebbly beach." Twice the ship's boat filled with water, and once a man was washed overboard, but was hauled in again. The harmonium was floating in the sea, but being in a zinc-lined case took no harm. By the afternoon the sea had quieted down a little, and it was decided that it would be safe for us to land at the settlement. Personally I was rather disappointed at this decision; but it gave, we believe, much satisfaction to the captain, who did not seem at all to like the idea of landing us on the sea-shore, where we should certainly have had to spend one night, and might have had to spend several. We steamed to within three-quarters of a mile of the settlement, and between three and four o'clock all was in readiness for us to leave the steamer. Farewells were said, and then we descended to the lower deck, which was crowded with people. One island boat had already left. The other had been hauled on to the ship, and it was thought best that we should get into it and then be lowered. As they began to lift the boat there was an ominous crack, which caused the chief officer to tell us to get out, which we quickly did. The boat was then lowered into the sea. One by one we made the descent of about forty feet down the ship's side on a swinging rope ladder, holding a rope in each hand, and having one round our waist, and with an officer going in front of us. We had to wait for the right moment to jump into the boat which was rising and falling with the waves. The collie came last; it seemed an interminable time before he appeared. He was roped, and struggling as for his life; he managed to clamber back to the deck, but was pushed off again, and at last reached us in a most terrified condition, and trem

bling violently. It was really hard work to hold him in the boat. We were now ready to pull off. Farewells were waved and cheers given, and I think the last strains we heard were "For he's a jolly good fellow." It was not easy getting away from the ship, and it looked rather alarming as we descended and mounted with the waves. The spray kept dashing over us, and I felt it running down my neck, but before long we got into quieter water. The steamer stood by until we were out of danger, and then we saw it steaming away with the fellow-passengers who had been so kind to us. Now, indeed, we felt we were leaving the world behind us. But we could see quite a crowd awaiting us on the shore and others running down the steep cliff to the beach. We were not allowed to land until the boat was drawn up on the shingle. There we found nearly all the colony and a swarm of dogs. We struggled up the bank of shingle over wet seaweed, and went round and shook hands with the elders. Seeing we had no hats, and the veils which we were wearing in their place were wet through, two of the younger women came forward and offered Ellen and myself a coloured handkerchief to tie over our heads, and, I think, tied them on. We were much touched by this kind attention and the welcome it conveyed.

When the boat had been drawn up to its place we sang the doxology, lingered a little, and then, conducted by the inhabitants, filed up the steep rocky road to the top of the cliff and on to the grassy common. The scenery was very fine, towering mountains in the background, the settlement below with its quaint little stone, thatched houses, and the sea with its white-crested waves. We were taken to Betty Cotton's house, the first to be reached. She was there to give us a welcome. We had to bend our heads as we entered the porch, but to our surprise were led into quite a spacious room with two windows.

[Illustration: BETTY COTTON'S HOUSE (FRONT), OUR NEW HOME]

[Illustration: BETTY COTTON'S HOUSE (BACK)]

A large number followed us in. I felt a little shy, so many eyes were upon us, and all the conversation had to emanate from us. After a time there was a movement: the men in whose boat we had come went off to change their wet clothes.

Betty, who was seventy-six and very active, began to prepare the table for tea, and I must say the prospect of tea was most welcome. There were spectators of that meal and of many ensuing ones. Later on our friends came to see us again, and the room was packed all round. I could hear much whispering among the women in the passages: no doubt anxious discussion was going on as to our sleeping accommodation. Betty decided to sleep out; Mr. Dodgson's room was assigned to us, and the adjoining room which had no window and was more like a cupboard, to Ellen.

My husband had some talk with the people, telling them what had drawn him to Tristan and of his mother's shipwreck, and then closed with a few verses from the Bible and prayer. We were tired after our day of adventures, and thankful to retire to rest.

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