Previous Contents Index Next

Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a north-west passage and of a residence in the Arctic Regions, during the Years 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, and 1833

By Sir John Ross

(London: A.W. Webster, 1835)

Mutiny (1829)

-- June 9 --
On this morning we contrived to fetch within four miles of the harbour; and the tide being in our favour, reached Port Logan at 8 o'clock; finding sufficient water at the end of the pier, though it was now three quarters ebb. This, formerly called Port Nessock, is a safe and commodious pier harbour, constructed at the expence of Colonel M'Douall, of Logan, on the south slde of a spacious bay, situated nine miles north of the Mull of Galloway. It is easily known by a remarkable building on the hill to the north of the bay, and by the watchhouse anf flagstaff on that to the south, forming the station of the coastguard at this place. There is good holding ground in the bay, and ships may choose their depth since it shoals from thirty to three fathoms. It is secure to the south-west, but is open to the north-west winds. It is a great advantage here, that ships can run for the pier, though at half tide; since, even at low water, it has seven feet, as, in the former case, there are fourteen, which at spring tides is increased to eighteen. There is no danger in entering, as every thing is visible; and as the tide sets outwards during eight hours, on the north side, a vessel has no difficulty in beating out. This is decidedly the best harbour of refuge, even in its present state, on this part of the coast; deriving advantage also from the proximity of the lighthouse on the Mull of Galloway. It has been computed that a breakwater might be erected within the bay, at an expence of 80,000 l.; and should this ever be effected, it will become one of the most safe and commodious harbours in Scotland.

Before entering the pier, we were boarded by Mr. Harvey, the officer of the coastguard with an offer of his services; and it was {22} here, on landing, that we procured a spring car for the conveyance of our patient to my house at Stranraer, where he was put under the care of our own surgeon, Mr. M'Diarmid; and that of Mr. Wilson and Dr. Ritchie, who completed the operation which I was obliged to leave imperfect, and attended him kindly to a cure. I must not however quit the history of this spirited fellow, seaman though he was not, without adding, that while he found his way up the two ladders of the engine room without help, and made no complaint at any time, the only regret he expressed was, that he should "now not be able to go on the expedition." I might well regret, myself, being obliged to leave behind such a man as this.

Having followed Hardy to my house, that 1 might see him properly disposed of, I sent for Mr. Thom, to whom I had confided the management of the John; when I had the vexation to learn from him, that her officers and men were in a state approaching to mutiny. Taking advantage of our delay in going on board, it was soon easy to see in the looks of the officers and men, that Mr. Thom's report of their unwillingness to go on this expedition was but too true; the latter appearing disorderly and dirty, as they skulked and sneaked about the ship. Judging it therefore necessary to come to an immediate explanation, I went on board the John, and ordered all hands to be called. I then expressed my regret at finding there was dissatisfaction among them; but as I dared not suppose that it proceeded from fear, I trusted that a little explanation would rectify this misunderstanding. Having myself sailed from Greenock, I had desired {23} that Greenock men should share with me the honours and advantages of this expedition; and of the advantages there could be no doubt, under the knowledge which I possessed and the plans which I had adopted. It was true, that the season might appear to them somewhat advanced; but independently of the advantages our steam power might give us, I knew so well where to find abundance of fish, that there could be no question of our success and that we should not, in the end, prove a day too late. I therefore expressed my trust that they would return to their duties, and not proceed in a mode of conduct which would bring disgrace both on themselves and their native port.

On this, a pause took place, when, after some interchange of significant looks and whisperings between the mates and the men, the boatswain stepped forward, and after calling on some others to join him, observed, that as the season was so far advanced, they were not willing to go without a fresh agreement; a resolution in which he was joined by the majority of the crew. On inquiring into the nature of this new demand, I was answered that they would not go, unless I would ensure them, in writing, the same shares as if they had returned with a full ship. It would not have been easy to frame a much more unreasonable request, when such a promise would necessarily deprive them of all inducement to exert themselves in fishing. I could not hesitate therefore in answering to so absurd a proposal, that I would ensure finding them fish in abundance, but that to take them and fill the ship, must be their own business. I was answered, however, that nothing less would satisfy them than an absolute promise of {24} 200 tons of oil, with a farther guarantee, in writing, that they were not to be detained on the expedition, but returned home in the usual time.

I now, therefore, began to suspect that the real motive of their present conduct was the fear of being detained beyond the summer; but I was soon convinced that their fears were even deeper than this, since it was in vain that I represented to them the egregious folly I should commit in taking them out with only six months provisions, had I intended to keep them out longer, or even did I foresee the possibility of such an event as their detention. The best policy therefore now seemed to be that of shortening the stay of the Victory at Port Logan as much as possible; while I hoped that when we should join, and they were made to comprehend the advantages arising from the presence of a steam ship to aid the John in towing, this feeling would subside, and they would return to their duties under our agreement.

I returned therefore to Port Logan without loss of time; and the remainder of this day, June 9, was employed in landing the small boiler, together with the apparatus intended for cutting the ice, which, it was now evident, exceeded the power of the engine to work. We thus got rid of six or seven tons of what was now mere lumber; replacing it by three tons of water. On the following day -- June 10 -- I was visited by my friend, Colonel M'Douall, accompanied by others, relations and friends; nor did he part with us without a substantial present to furnish our next Christmas dinner, in the shape of one of the best Galloway cattle from his own estate. At six in the evening we cast off from the pier; and, with the assistance of the {25} coastguard, were towed round the point of Logan, under a light air from the south-east. At eight it fell calm, and we were obliged to stop the tide off Port Kale, under our kedge; and though weighing again the following morning -- June 11 -- at six, with a light breeze from the north-east, we were unable to round Corswall point, so that we were again compelled to stop the tide in the same manner.

These delays allowed us to examine into the nature of the damage already mentioned as having been indicated in our boilers; when we found that the failure consisted chiefly in that of the iron cement which had been used in securing some of the joints; while the engineer had neither been informed of this, nor provided with the materials for replacing it in case of need. The small bellows, with the machinery belonging to it, was also in need of a thorough repair, as was the large one more partially; but I must be excused from dwelling on this endless and provoking subject at present, further than to say, that every day convinced us still more that we must consider ourselves in future, as dependent on our sails, for such progress as it should be our good fortune to make.

We now weighed anchor once more at half-past five in the afternoon, rounded the point of Corswall, and bore up for Loch Ryan; but, as it fell calm, were obliged to come to anchor until the next morning, -- June 12 -- when, favoured by the breeze and a flowing tide, we ran alongside the John, having taken Mr. Thom on board the evening before, on making the Loch.

The Victory being now alongside of the John, and her crew {26} ranged on the deck, I again went on board. When the hands were called, I explained at considerable length the advantages they would obtain, and that I did not entertain an intention of keeping them out to a second year. But seeing that all I said was without effect, I addressed my own crew, by remarking that such cowards as the men of the John were not worthy to accompany such gallant fellows as themselves, even to the edge of the ice. Yet as it was also necessary that I should prove a positive act of disobedience, I desired Mr. Comb, the master, to order his crew to assist ours in removing the coke. This was refused at once by the men, who at the same time called on those of the Victory to join them in "standing up for seamen's rights," as they expressed it. But the appeal, as I expected, was received by my own people with indignation; upon which I returned on board, and after praising them as they well merited, both for this and all their other good conduct, proposed that we should sail by ourselves, and leave the cowardly John to her own proceedings. This proposal was received with three cheers; entirely disconcerting the mutineers, who had believed that I could not do without their assistance, and that they might therefore make any terms they pleased.

It was still necessary, however, that I should muster the John's crew, so as to ascertain the feelings of each individual; and this therefore was done by the master, at my instance. It commenced with the first mate, Muirhead, who declared that he would not abide by his agreement, nor go on the voyage, without a guarantee for 150 tons of oil and the immediate return of the ship: a specimen of the rest, at which 1 was exceedingly surprised, as he was {27} the son of the worthy commander of the Larkins whaler, from whom I had formerly received both kindness and services. The answers of the second mate, Robb, were the same; and it was not difficult to see that the master was kept in awe by these two men. The boatswain and the harpooners being next asked if they would assist in weighing the anchor, joined in refusing, while some added to their refusal, impertinence; and this example was followed by the whole crew, with the exception of the cook, the cooper, and two men, the latter of whom both entered with us afterwards for the expedition.

A disgraceful scene of confusion soon followed, in the attempts of the discontented men to leave the ship; that being opposed by the master, whether from a wish to conciliate my favour by a pretense, or from real repentance for his conduct, I could not be sure. Be that as it may, he proposed to lower down the boats and tow them on shore, that he might deprive the men of the means of quitting the vessel; but no sooner was this done, than several of them were taken possession of by the mutineers, who at the same time removed their chests from the ship, with the most insulting language, attended by the hisses of the Victory's crew and the reproaches of the coastguard, and a crowd of spectators who had collected to witness this scene. It was completed, as far as we could see of their proceedings, by their beginning to sell their clothes, to get drunk, and to fight, as soon as they were landed; thus proving that their mutinous conduct was but a part of a general character from which we could have expected no good. The number which thus left the John in the course of the day, amounted to thirty-eight; those who remained, including the {28} master, some officers, and the apprentices, being eleven. In the course of these scuffles two boats had been stove, and one man had fallen overboard; but no lives were lost nor any known injury sustained.

This drama having thus terminated, including an attempt to seduce four of the Victory's men by inviting them on board the John to make them drunk, which however failed, it remained for me to make a legal call on the master to perform his contract and to leave him a written order to sail before the first of July, if he could reman the ship; failing which, he was to proceed to Greenock and deliver her over to the agent, Mr. Oughterson. It became necessary also for me to write an account of these proceedings to Mr. Booth, to which I added letters on the same subject to Sir Byam Martin, Captain Beaufort, and the Honourable Hugh Lindsay, in case any false reports, injurious to myself and my officers, or to the expedition, should be circulated, after my departure, by the people or officers of the John.

I cannot now, however, transcribe this narrative from my journal, without communicating to my readers what only came to my knowledge, after my return from this long banishment. Whatever else it may prove, to those who are but too ready to pronounce on that justice which it becomes no mortal to distribute, even in imagination, it served to satisfy us that we had lost nothing by the defection of our intended consort, and had perhaps escaped far greater evils than those which ultimately befel us: teaching us too, that the events, which in our shortsightedness we are so apt to view as evils are full often intended as blessings.

{29} It was but in the following year, that the John, under the same master and officers, and with the same crew, barring one or two exceptions, sailed to Baffin's bay on a whaling expedition. From causes which have never come to light, a mutiny took place on board, attended by the death of the master, Comb, but under circumstances which have not yet been rightly explained, as far as I can understand. The mate, with a boat's crew, were expelled at the same time; and having never since been heard of, are supposed to have perished in the ice. The ship, then put under the command of the Spikesoneer, was afterwards lost on the western coast, when most of the crew were drowned; the remainder being saved be a whaler which was accidentally passing.