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Three Years in Tristan da Cunha By K. M. Barrow Characters: 17992

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

On the Svend Foyne.

Monday, April 5.-Well, we are on our homeward road at last! I must go back and relate events from the beginning. On Wednesday afternoon, feeling a little tired, I had taken my chair outside in front of the cottage and nearly fell asleep. I fancied I heard a sound of "Sail, ho!" but thinking it was the children at play, I thought no more of it, although Rob at once looked up. Presently two of the young girls rushed down to the house, calling out, "Three steamers from the westward." I jumped up at once, and we set to to collect everything that had to be packed. Mr. Keytel and Repetto appeared and told us the men would soon be starting for the steamers, which were coming close in. It was arranged that Repetto should stay and Henry Green carry on the negotiations with the captain, who was to be asked to run up a red flag if he were willing to take us. The men soon got off, but were not able to intercept the steamer, which got in front of them, and it looked at one time as if there were no hope of overtaking it. They hoisted a sail in hope of attracting the captain's attention. Between our packing we kept anxiously looking out at them, and before very long went up to the Repettos' house, where we could see better. After some time of anxious watching the steamer seemed to be slowing down, and at last we saw the boats get alongside. There was a concourse of women and children at the Repettos' house, and I shall not forget Mary's anxious little face as she keenly watched the movements of the steamer. When she saw it was slowing down she fled into the house. There I found her behind the door, weeping bitterly, as well as Martha, and did my best to comfort them. Before very long the boats came back and we went down to the shore to hear the news. It seems that when the captain heard they had things for barter he said he did not want anything. Then Henry Green called out could he have a few words with him, as he had a message to give him from the minister. This was allowed; so Henry went on board and put things so well that, after some consideration, the captain said he would take us, and would wait till eight that evening, and even until ten. "No," said Henry, "that won't do; it isn't fit weather for them to come off tonight; it'll be better to-morrow." Finally the captain said, "I can't wait for them longer than eight o'clock to-morrow morning. If they are not here by then I must go." He was anxious to coal his two small steamers, and had come close to the island expecting to find smoother water in which to do so. He told us afterwards he only took us because he knew how difficult it must be to get off the island. It was a reprieve to know we had not to leave that night; it gave us time to go round and say good-bye to all the old people. Some of them, especially Eliza Hagan, Betty Cotton and Martha Green, felt it very much. Mr. Keytel made up his mind to throw in his lot with us and not wait for his schooner. We were up till midnight, and were up again soon after four, when it was quite dark. We had breakfast at half-past five, as Graham had arranged for a service at six. To this service men, women and children came to the number of sixty. We had two hymns, "Jesu, meek and gentle," and "Fight the good fight," two or three prayers, and a few words of farewell. Old Eliza, Susan Hagan and Betty followed us back into the house and stayed till it was time to leave for the shore. We had prayer together and then we went down to the beach. Nearly every one was there to bid us good-bye. I think the little boys were very happy, feeling they would have no more school, but the women and girls were almost in tears. The boats were at last ready, and we followed them as they were pushed to the brink of the water, then got in, and the men-waiting for an opportune moment, for there were breakers-pushed off, sprang in and bent to their oars. It took about half-an-hour to get to the ship, which was a large iron one. Our boat waited close by till those in the first one had gone on board. One or two waves had splashed into the boat, and I found myself sitting in a pool of water. When our turn came a grimy rope was put round our waists, and we had to clamber up a steep iron ladder as best we could, coal-besmeared faces looking down upon us from above. As soon as the baggage was on board the order was given to go ahead. Many of the men when they came to say good-bye were in tears; Henry in particular seemed to feel the parting. We watched them getting into their boats and waved adieux as they sped on their way homeward.

Now I must tell a little about the ship, which is a Norwegian whaler of 4,000 tons, and has accompanying it two little steamers, on each of which is mounted a gun, from which the harpoon is shot. The captain is returning from the South Shetlands (south of Cape Horn), and has caught 392 whales of two or three varieties. Below are 8,000 barrels of oil, which he is taking to Cape Town to be sent on from there to an English or Scotch market.

Wednesday, April 7.-I forgot to mention that Joe Hagan, one of last year's arrivals and a very decent fellow, managed through Mr. Keytel to get a passage.

The day we left there were clouds over Tristan, and to my disappointment we could not see the Peak, which I have not yet seen. The island was visible most of the day. We kept on deck all day, but towards evening our sea troubles began. Some of the oil being stored in tanks caused the ship to roll more than it ordinarily would. From that Thursday evening till Monday morning neither Graham nor Ellen came up-stairs, and were really very ill. I could just manage to get out of my bunk and crawl up-stairs on to the sofa in the tiny saloon, which was heaped up with our small luggage, and was the home of the two dogs, Rob and Scotty. The utmost I was capable of these two days was twice a day to look in upon the invalids. Happily, we had the kindest of stewards, with the softest of voices, who looked well after them, and Mr. Keytel did all he could. On Sunday there was a moderate gale, but Monday was calmer, and we all revived and got out on deck.

Ellen had been given some apples before starting, the islanders telling her they were good for seasickness. Feeling a little revived, we thought we would like to try them, so she brought us some. Presently I heard an exclamation from her, and found she was looking at the paper in which the apples had been wrapped. In putting them away she had recognized in the paper a portrait of my eldest brother. On looking at the paper, I saw his portrait and that of his intended bride, with a notice of his approaching marriage. This was the first intimation I had of my brother's engagement. It seemed so curious that of all the papers that came from that ship, this should have been the one little bit of them to reach us, and that, too, after we had left the island. We always saw any papers brought from ships, but these from the London ship, which was boarded about a fortnight ago, did not come into our hands.

Poor Graham is very much run down and looks as if he had put on twenty years. It is the greatest mercy that we have come by this steamer and not by the schooner.

It is quite an interest to watch the small steamers ploughing behind. Sometimes the waves wash right over their decks. As the sea is not smooth enough for them to be coaled from the large steamer, they have had to be taken in tow. This will delay our passage, but the captain expects to be in Table Bay on Thursday evening. We are having beautiful weather and are able to be on deck all day long.

Thursday, April 8,-We cannot feel thankful enough that we were given passages on this steamer. Mr. Keytel is glad too, and has been able to learn a great deal about whaling from the captain, with whom he talks by the hour. We cannot say too much of Captain Mitchelsen's kindness and generosity. When Mr. Keytel asked him what we were indebted to him, he would hear of no payment, though Mr. Keytel urged it again and again. At last he said, "If you like you may pay the steward for the food, but nothing more."

Royal Hotel, Cape Town, Saturday, April 10, 1909. Here we are, and so thankful to be on shore. Thursday, our last night on board, was rather a bad one; the ship rolled horribly, on account of slackening speed, and scarcely any one slept. We were astir betimes, and much enjoyed the beauty of the outline of coast. It was delightful to feast our eyes on the bright sunshiny shore dotted with red-roofed houses. It was a beautiful day, and Table Mountain and the town looked very fine as we rounded in. We anchored in the Bay, and soon plying round us were numerous little motor-launches. The Port Doctor did not appear till long after the other officials because, I suppose, it was Good Friday, and then had to go back for papers. In consequence of this delay we did not leave the ship until the afternoon. The poor dogs were not even so fortunate,

having to be left behind till the morrow to be passed by the veterinary surgeon. We embarked on one of the launches, and I must say it was delightful to step ashore and to enter what seemed to us almost a new world.

That evening we found our way to the cathedral, and I think we could from our hearts give thanks for all God's goodness to us. When we started forth four years ago I rather dreaded facing the world, but all along our path we have met with the greatest kindness and have made many new friends. In all we see God's guiding Hand; and very especially did the arrival of the steamer at the very time we would have chosen make us feel conscious of God's loving kindness and tender care.



There is nothing peculiar to Tristan in either its Fauna or Flora. Of the birds those we saw or heard most of were:-

1. The Gony, the Wandering Albatross (Diomedia exulans). A few lay on Inaccessible but none on Tristan. 2. The "Pe-o," the Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fuliginosa). Comes to nest in August, leaves in April. 3. The Molly, Yellow-nosed Mollyhawk (Thalassogeron chlororhyncus). Comes to nest in August, leaves in April. 4. The Sea-hen, the Southern Skua (Stercorarius antarcticus). Is in all the year, begins to lay in August. 5. The Black Eaglet, the Long-winged Fulmar (Aestrelata Macroptera). Comes in to moult in May; lays first week in July. 6. The White-breasted Black Eaglet. Lays in November. 7. The King-bird, the Kerguelen Tern (Sterna Vittata). Comes in September, and lays in November. 8. The Wood-pigeon, the "Noddy" (Anous Stolidus). Comes in September and lays in November. 9. The Night-bird, the Broad-billed Blue Petrel (Prion Vittatus). Comes in July and lays in September. 10. The "Pediunker," lays in May and June; it is like a Petrel. We think it must be the Shearwater (Profinus Cinereus); of which we were told at the South African Museum, Cape Town, that it frequents Scotland, and that its nesting-place was unknown until Mr. Keytel brought a specimen of it and of its eggs from Tristan in 1909. 11. The Starchy, the Tristan Thrush (Nesocictela). A land bird. No song. 12. The Finch, the Tristan Finch (Nesospiza Acunhae). A land bird. 13. The Penguin, the Rock-hopper Penguin (Catarrhactes Chrysocome). Comes to moult in March; comes again in August and lays in September. Last year's young ones come to moult in December.

The first name is the island name. "Pe-o" and "Pediunker" are attempts at spelling.

The fish we saw at Tristan were:--

1. Whale, Southern Right Whale (Balaena Australis). 2. Sea-elephant. 3. Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus). 4. Shark. 5. Blue-fish (Perca antarctica). 6. Snoek (Thyrsites atun). 7. Mackerel (Scomber Pneumatophorus). 8. Five-finger (Chilodactylus Fasciatus lac). 9. Soldier-fish. 10. Craw-fish. 11. Clip-fish.

Of the trees and plants those we most frequently met with were:--

1. The Island Tree (Phylica nitida). Found also on the islands Gough,

Amsterdam, Bourbon, and Mauritius.

2. Tussock (Spartina Arundinacea); distinct from the real Tussock

(Poa Flabellater). "The geographical distribution of this grass is

remarkable, being confined to the Tristan group and Gough Island, and the

Islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam in the Indian Ocean, 3,000 miles

distant" (Blue-book).

3. Flax.

4. Willow, a few trees on the settlement only.

5. Ferns and Mosses.

6. Prickle-bush, Gorse. A few bushes only near the houses.

7. Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum).

8. Nertera, bearing scarlet berries.

9. Blackberry. Scanty.

10. Cape-gooseberry. Once plentiful, now scarce.

11. Tea-plant (Chenopodium Tomentosum).

12. Wild Celery.

13. Large Field-Daisy.

14. Geranium (Pelargonium Australe).

15. Convolvolus.

16. Sunflower (Oxalis).

17. Buttercup. One patch only near Betty's house.


From Feb. 15, 1908, to March 31, 1909, the lowest temperature as recorded in a Stevenson's screen was 37'9 degrees (Aug. 16, 1908), and the highest 77'8 (March 14, 1909).

The Rainfall and Sunshine records are as follows:-

Rainfall Sun, all Sun, part Sun day of the day unrecorded

1907 inches days days days

June 4-30 4'990 5 19 0

July 9'635 4 18 3

August 8'020 4 21 0

September 7'465 7 11 1

October 7'660 9 13 0

November 6'015 11 14 1

December 2'975 4 1 24




January 4.565 11 12 0

February 6.105 10 12 0

March 4.360 7 17 2

April 7.605 14 8 1

May 4.305 9 21 0

June 5.775 0 25 0

July 4.800 5 21 0

August 6.325 8 18 0

September 6.630 3 21 0

October 6.675 11 9 0

November 2.440 11 8 0

December 5.255 10 10 0




January 3.060 7 19 0

February 4.720 11 7 3

March 5.295 9 14 1



The following observations on the wind are derived from Andréa Repetto:-

The wind at Tristan generally changes from northward to westward or southward. The change begins with rain. A very light wind from the northward (NE. or N.) will spring up, and may last for a day or two; then it becomes unsettled and with rain changes to the westward. But this initial wind may come from the NW., W., SW., or S. This movement of the wind from the northward to westward or southward generally happens when the weather is settled and the wind is light, or in the warm season (spring, summer and autumn); but sometimes it happens in unsettled weather, in which case the rain pours down at once and the wind from the north lasts only a short time. When this northward wind begins in unsettled weather it changes to the south, as a rule, without staying at any of the intervening points, and does so with a heavy squall or shower. When the wind from the north is a light one it generally changes to a light one from the south; and when it is a heavy one from the north it generally changes to a heavy one from the south; this latter happens usually in the winter when the weather is for the most part unsettled.

In the warm season when the wind is very light it very often goes round the four cardinal points every twenty-four hours for a week together.

The wind hardly ever changes from the northward to the eastward. On the very rare occasions when it may do so, the wind being very variable, it never stands there but quickly returns to the northward.

The wind may instantly change (e.g. after one shower) from northward to south; and sometimes from here (the south) it goes to SE., where it may stay a week; if it gets as far as the east it will not stay for more than a day or two, but will go on to the NE.; but it does not get so far as the E. more than once in a year, and perhaps not for two years, and always without rain.

When the wind gradually changes from northward to the south it stays a short time in the west, then as the day advances in the SW., and gets to the S. in the evening, each of those three movements being preceded by squalls or showers. On reaching the S. it settles there for a day or two. If during this day or two there are showers a movement will begin. In the morning this movement will be without a shower from the S. to the W.; but in the evening it will be with a shower back from the W. (to which it had gone in the morning) to SW. or S. This movement may last for a week or two.

In fine weather when the wind springs from the northward the first day is generally fine and clear, then it becomes cloudy or dull for a day or even a fortnight; then it will change to the westward with a squall, or shower, or sometimes heavy rain.

The wind never changes from the S. to northward without first dying down either at once or gradually and without rain. But it may change from the SW. or W. to northward without dying down and without rain.

The wind from the E. which visits the Isle so seldom generally begins with rain, though in the lee it is clear and the sun is shining at the time. It lasts from two to six days at least.

When the SE. wind blows in unsettled weather, in the lee there will be sunshine and clear weather.

The winds from the W., SW., S. and SE. are dry winds. The other winds, especially N. and NE., are wet ones.


1. Allow, to say.

2. Bawling, lowing of a cow.

3. Bog, a root or clump of tussock.

4. Bread, ship's biscuits.

5. Cake, bread.

6. Duff-headed cow, a cow without horns.

7. Fancy, pretty.

8. Gallied, flustered.

9. Gutter, a narrow grass-covered ravine.

10. Hardy, a high rock in the sea at a little distance from the shore.

11. "I never," I never did it.

12. Mary, a chrysalis.

13. Ned, a lob (in cricket).

14. Paddle, to rake.

15. Quanking, the cackling of geese.

16. Red Harry, a red centipede.

17. Scouse, milk and the yolk of two or three eggs boiled in it.

18. The Stitch, lumbago.

19. Tissick, a cough.

* * * * *

Richard Clay & Sons Limited, London and Bungay.

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