Saga of a Reluctant Whaler, Part 3

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Simsbury Road in West Granby

More letters from Harris Holcomb on a whaling ship.

“November 18, 1851

Hilo is a very pleasant place. There are about 15 or 20 white men live there and plenty of natives. Ashore it looks like a beautiful garden, every place is covered with the most beautiful flowers and shrubs. Coconuts, oranges, pineapples, bananas, plantains, breadfruit, pawpaws, sugar cane, mountain apples, pomegranates, watermelons, and muskmelons grow here in abundance and are very cheap. We stopped there three weeks and then came to this place, which is on the island of Maui and about thirty-six hours sail from Hilo.

Crayton is in the ship with me and tells me I had better stay with her, for he says I shall get home quicker than if I run away. He is thought a great deal of by both officers and crew. He sends his respects to all that enquire, tell them he is in good health as usual.

I have not got a letter since I left Bedford. I am in good health and have been most of the time. I am entirely sick of whaling and shall quit the business as quick as possible. If you write, direct to Honolulu.”

The last letter from Harris was written exactly one year later.

“November 18, 1852 Honolulu

I take this opportunity to write you a little news. We came from the Arctic to Hilo and had one week’s liberty and got some water, potatoes and fruit. Hilo is the best place we’ve been into since we left home. There are about twenty or thirty houses, two of which are very nice.

There are two churches here, one for seamen and one for the natives. Sweet potatoes grow here from the size of my fist to the size of a bucket. When we were there, the frigate St. Lawrence lay there. They had a theatre aboard of her one night but I did not go.

We left there and came to Lahaina and lay off and on. I went in the boat to pull the old man ashore, where we had to pull about 15 miles in the sun (and by the way, the sun does shine here) but he gave the boat’s crew a dollar apiece so we could not find fault.

This is a large place, the largest in the Islands. It is about as large as Tariffville, but a very different place. Here are about 150 ships besides brigs, schooners etc. Here you see almost any nation in the world represented. Americans, English, Dutch, Irish, Scotch, Spaniards, Portuguese, Chinese, Malays, Japanese, Africans and all sorts of South Americans and natives of most of the islands in the Pacific.

There has not been much more than common here until about a week ago when a policeman killed a sailor belonging to the ship Emerald of Sag Harbor. He was killed in the fort which is the common prison here. The seamen were all in favor of taking the man out of the fort and a-hanging him without judge or jury. They collected together five or six hundred men from the ships in port and about 100 that sail out of here. They marched around the town and formed in front of the fort where one of the leaders made a speech. Then they left there and set fire to three government houses. The mob then dispersed and went home or aboard their ships.

The next day the people ashore put in about 100 policemen and gave out notice that all sailors belonging to ships that were found ashore after sundown and all sailors living ashore that were not at their boarding houses, would be taken up and put in the fort.

After we left here last season, we went to the Navigator Islands, the Society Islands and a number of other groups. We were a-cruising for whales and going ashore for fruit, potatoes, hogs and chickens etc. Here you can live cheap. For a plug of tobacco, you can get two chickens, a small pig or two large bunches of bananas or a dozen coconuts, and any other thing in proportion. I have got a great many shells, whale’s teeth, etc. but if I leave the ship I shall have to leave them. The ship is going to the arctic again but if I can get away, I shall come home.

I do not like to tell you how we live at sea, but as you wish to know, I will. We have salt meat and most of the time potatoes and bread, about as good as a chip. It took me a long time to get used to it, so that I could eat anything, but now you would be astonished to see salt pork and beef disappear before me. 

As for health, I have had as good health for two years as I ever had in my life, but I do not grow any. This arctic weather is breaking more constitutions than ever the Mexican War did. It is very cold, snowing and raining half of the time and frosted the other time.

Crayton steers the second mate’s boat and has struck more whales than any other boat steerer in the ship. He is a first rate sailor and has learned navigation since we have been out.

I received three letters from you in here, one of them dated Nov. 1850 and the other two soon after you got my letters from here.”

(to be concluded)