Saga of a Reluctant Whaler, Part 2

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West Granby bridge over Salmon Brook. Submitted photo.

More letters from the young sailor from West Granby – Harris Holcomb.

October 2nd 1850

“Dear Father, Last Saturday there was about twelve or thirteen sperm whales close in sight, so they lowered all four of the boats and went in pursuit of them but did not take any. If I could be at home now and you had some rye bread and butter, you would be alarmed at how I would eat. We expect to touch at Fayal (Faial in the Azores) tomorrow so I must hurry.

Dear Edward, We don’t have anything very odd here except to hear some of the hands talk. There are four Portuguese, one Spaniard, one Spanish negro and a cook who is as black as an old crow. When the four Portuguese get together talking, it sounds like a flock of blackbirds. There is one little boy here just about as big as you, but I can’t understand a word he says. He is a cabin boy and waits on the Captain and the mates.

Dear Estelle, You get the Atlas and find the western islands and you will see where I am now. Then you follow along until you find the Cape of Good Hope, not Cape Horn, and around to Hong Kong and up the sea of Okotts (Okhotsk), where I am going.

This is the last letter you will have a chance to get from me at least for one year. Give my respects to all that enquire and tell them when they can neither beg or steal a living to go a-whaling, but not before.”

Ship Braganza, Fayal, Oct. 6, 1850

“We are now near to Fayal in the western islands and as I have a little time to spare I will write you a few lines. Today the Captain is on shore and we are alaying here, but we can’t go ashore only to pull in the boats.

This morning there was two boats came out to the ship loaded with apples, figs, oranges, cheese about as big as a tea saucer and one inch thick, to sell to us on board, or to trade for clothes, which some did at a pretty dear rate too.

There is one island here named Pico with a very high mountain, the top of which is always covered with snow. This morning it was very clear so we could see very plain. The Portuguese which own these islands live near the shore where the weather is very warm, they hardly ever have a frost. Almost anything grows here. The houses are, most of them, painted white and from here look very nice. This morning the top of Pico was above a large cloud and when the sun shone on it, it looked wonderful.

From here we can see churches, villages and houses, which look very pleasant. We are agoing to take in potatoes, onions etc. here and then sail for Cape of Good Hope. I suppose that I shall not get my feet on land until we get there. There are three islands in sight now, Pico, Fayal and St. George. I am now very well, but not so as to stand night watches yet.

It is quite warm here, just about as warm as it was when I left home.”

A year passes before there is another letter from Harris to his family. Some of his letters may have been lost, either at sea or in transit. Also, it is obviously difficult to mail letters from the Arctic.

Port of Lahaina, Oct. 20, 1851

“When I sailed from New Bedford, I did not intend to go a-whaling, but to come out here and run away from the ship and go to California. The old Skipper did not think any such thing, so instead of coming round the Horn and here, he went around Cape of Good Hope and to New Zealand, so I have had to try one season in the Arctic.

We were up to Latitude 40 North. About the first of May we went from that to Latitude 71 ½ North. So that we were in cold weather and ice and snow until the first of August. The whales were not very plenty, for instead of getting the ship full, as they expected, we only got 400 barrels while the ship carries 4000.

The weather there in the Arctic is very cold and foggy. The land is in sight most of the time and is covered with snow and ice. There was 12 or 13 ships lost up there this season; some in the ice, some drove ashore in a gale and some drifted ashore in a calm.

I have seen the natives that live there on the coast, they are small, of dark complexion and ugly. They live on whales, seals, walrus, dogs and anything they can get. They come out to the ships in canoes to sell walrus tusks and different kinds of skins for tobacco, thread, needles and they sell a coat made from the skins of otter for one half pound of tobacco.

We have been to Hilo in Owyhe (Hawaii) and had our liberty and got our wood and water and sweet potatoes for a cruise a-sperm-whaling.”  (to be continued)