Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/2

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CHAPTER II


FROM NEW YORK TO PORT MAHON




ALL things being in readiness, on the 20th of NOVEMBER we dropped down from the Brooklyn Navy-Yard, abreast of the Battery, and waited for a change of weather.

FRIDAY, NOV. 26, 1847. At 10 A.M. weighed anchor, and at 10:15, with a fresh breeze from W.N.W., under a press of sail, we stood down the bay of New York. Around us the ruffled water was chequered with numerous sails, and the shadows of detached clouds flitting before the keen and cutting wind, fit harbinger of the coming frost. Before us, the “Narrows” open into Raritan Bay, and thence expand into the wide-spread and magnificent ocean.

At 2 P.M., passed the lighthouse; at 2:30 discharged the pilot; 2:45 braced our yards to the fresh and favouring breeze, and bade, as God in His mercy might decree, a temporary or a final adieu to our native land.

THE LAND DISAPPEARS.

In a few hours the low lands were sunk beneath the horizon, and at sunset the high lands of “Navesink” were alone visible above the agitated surface of the water. The dry wind sweeping over the land, which had been saturated by the rains of the two preceding days, caused an evaporation so great as wonderfully to increase the refraction. The setting sun, expanding as it dipped, and varying its hues with its expansion, assumed forms as unique as they were beautiful. Now elongated in its shape, and now flattened at its ends, it would, at times, be disparted by the white crest of an intervening wave, and present alternately the appearance of golden cups and balls, and jeweled censers tossing about upon a silver sea. As the minutes advanced, the western sky, tint by tint, became one glorious suffusion of crimson and orange, and the disc of the sun, flattening, widening, and becoming more ruddy and glowing as it descended, sunk at last, like a globe of ruby in a sea of flame.

I took this as an auspicious omen, although we sailed on Friday, the dreaded day of seamen. Why superstition should select this day as an unlucky one, I cannot conceive. On the sixth day, Friday, God created man and blessed him; and on Friday, the Redeemer died for man’s salvation: on Friday, Columbus sailed from Palos in quest of another world: on the same day of the week, he saw the realization of his dream of life; and returned upon a Friday, to electrify Europe with the wondrous tidings of his discovery. As a harbinger of good, therefore, and not of evil, I hailed our departure upon this favoured day.

With the setting sun, all vestige of the land disappeared, and nothing remained but a luminous point, which, from the solitary light-ship, gleamed tremulously across the waters. As it sunk beneath the waves, our last visible tie with the Western World was severed. How gladly on our return, perchance a tempestuous night, shall we hail that light, which, flickering at first, but at length steadfast and true, welcomes the weary wanderer to his home!

PLEASING ANTICIPATION.

Without the least abatement of affection for, I turned with less reluctance than ever from, the land of my nativity. The yearnings of twenty years were about to be gratified. When a young midshipman, almost the very least in the escort of the good Lafayette across the ocean, my heart was prepared for its subsequent aspirations. In truth, in our route across the Atlantic, in the silent watches of the night, my mind, lost in contemplation, soared from the deep through which we ploughed our way, to that upper deep, gemmed with stars, revolving in their ceaseless round, and from them to the Mighty Hand that made them; and my previous desire to visit the land of the Iliad, of Alexander and of Caesar, became merged in an insatiate yearning to look upon the country which was the cradle of the human race, and the theatre of the accomplishment of that race’s mysterious destiny; the soil hallowed by the footsteps, fertilized by the blood, and consecrated by the tomb, of the Saviour.

Twice, since, at distant intervals, I contemplated making the desired visit. But the imperative calls of duty in the first instance, and a domestic calamity in the second, prevented me. As I have before said, in the spring of the present year I asked permission to visit the lands of the Bible, with the special purpose of thoroughly exploring the Dead Sea; the extent, configuration, and depression of which, are as much desiderata to science, as its miraculous formation, its mysterious existence, and the wondrous traditions respecting it, are of thrilling interest to the Christian.

The same liberal spirit which decided that the Expedition should be undertaken, directed ample means to be furnished for its equipment. With our boats, therefore, and arms, ammunition, and instruments, I felt well prepared for the arduous but delightful task before me.

THE GULF STREAM.

The boats Fanny Mason and Fanny Skinner, of nearly equal dimensions, were named after two young and blooming children, whose hearts are as spotless as their parentage is pure. Their prayers, like guardian spirits, would shield us in the hour of peril; and I trusted that, whether threading the rapids of the Jordan, or floating on the wondrous sea of death, the “Two Fannies” would not disgrace the gentle and artless beings whose names they proudly bore.

TUESDAY, NOV. 30. Spoke to an English brig bound to New York. She had many passengers on board, and had evidently been a long time at sea. Poor fellows! they were sadly out of their reckoning, and we endeavoured to correct their longitude, but the wind blew so fresh that I fear we were not understood. There are few things more exciting than the meeting of two ships on the lonely waters. Approaching rapidly, and as rapidly receding, but a few moments are allowed for friendly greeting; but, in that brief interval, how many thoughts of home and its endearments crowd the mind of the anxious wanderer!

THURSDAY, DEC. 2. The wind freshened into a steady gale; fragments of clouds flitted hurriedly across the sky; and the ship, now riding upon the crests, and again sunk in the hollow of a wave, rolling and plunging, dashed furiously onward, like a maddened steed, instinct with desperation.

CURRENTS AND GALES

The deep colour of the water, its higher temperature, and the light mist which shrouded its surface, showed that we had been for some days in the Gulf Stream, that wonderful current which originates from the multitudinous waters that are swept across the Atlantic before the trade winds, and impinge against the western continent; thence, sent with a whirl along the southern coast of the United States, they are intercepted by the Bahamas, and turned rapidly to the north and east, until, encountering the Grand Bank, they are deflected easterly towards the Azores, and thence, pursuing different routes, one branch seeks the Mediterranean, and the other is lost in the sluggish Sargossa Sea.

Our chronometers, invariably ahead of the reckoning, proved that we were accelerated by the current half a mile an hour. We occasionally met with patches of sea-weed (fucus natans), and one morning found several mollusca upon a branch of it. Between the coast of the United States and the inner edge of the Gulf Stream, we were swept forty miles to the southward, attributable, perhaps, to the great polar current setting along our coast to the south-west. This eddy current of the Gulf Stream may be the cause of the increase of cold experienced by navigators on reaching soundings.

We were favoured with fresh north-westerly gales, frequent rains, and a heavy sea, but there had been no great falling of the barometer. When under close reefed topsails and a reefed course, with a high sea running, the barometer had only fallen 1/14 of an inch. On the approach of an easterly gale, a few days previous to our departure from New York, it fell 7/14 of an inch. This day, tested thermometrical barometer, No 2: Temperature of air, 68°; of surface of the sea, 70°; of the sea, at 100 fathoms, 63°. Barometer, 30.6: Water boiled at 212.95. Salt hygrometer floated at 1:4: Latitude, 38° 40’, north; longitude, 43° 00’, west.

THE AZORES.

TUESDAY, DEC. 7. The barometer gradually fell, and the weather became more and more tempestuous.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 8. In the morning watch we were compelled to heave to, the ship labouring excessively. In the afternoon, the barometer had reached its minimum, 29.72, when the wind shifted in a sudden squall. Although the wind was fierce, the sky was cloudless, and the sea exhibited in magnificent confusion its toppling waves, with their foaming crests and driving spray, which sailors call spoom-drift, flashing in the sunlight. The interest of the scene was heightened by several sperm whales sporting in the wild chaos of waters, and exhibiting their glossy backs as they rose occasionally to the surface, and blew high in air volumes of water from their capacious nostrils.

THURSDAY, DEC. 9. The fitful airs throughout the day indicated, apart from our observations, the near vicinity of the land.

FRIDAY, DEC. 10. This morning, made the islands of Corvo and Flores, the north-westernmost of the Azores, and by sunset we had reached the meridian of Flores, its brown and furrowed sides undecked with a single flower, and giving no indication of the origin of its name. Fearing that we should be becalmed if we ran to leeward of it, and the sea setting heavily upon Corvo, I determined to run between them, although we had no chart of the islands, and no one on board knew whether or not the passage was practicable. To this, I was induced by two considerations: In the first place, from the rounded summits of the islands, they were evidently of volcanic origin, and shoals are rare in such vicinities. In the second place, the sea ran so high, that it must break over any intervening obstacle, and present a distinct and prohibitory line of foam. We therefore stood boldly through, and, as if to cheer us, the rays of the setting sun, intercepted by a rain-cloud which had swept over us, arched the passage with the best-defined and most vivid rainbow I have ever seen. It was so striking, that every draughtsman on board was immediately employed, endeavouring to catch the flitting beauties of the scene.

BEAUTIFUL NIGHT.

In the middle of the passage, the bow had faded away with the setting sun, leaving the sky less brilliant, but far more beautiful. In the east, directly ahead, rose the planet Jupiter, lustrous as a diamond, cresting with his brilliant light the line of vapour which skirted the horizon. Near the zenith, shone the moon in her meridian; lower down, the fiery Mars; and in the west, the beautiful Venus slowly descended, enveloped in the golden hues of the sun, which had preceded her. The gorgeous sun, the placid moon, the gem-like Jupiter, and the radiant Venus, bespoke the enduring serenity and the joys of Heaven; while the agitated sea, crested with foam, breaking loudly on either shore, which, in the gathering dimness, seemed in dangerous proximity, told of the anxieties and perils of this transitory life.

We passed through unimpeded, at a glorious rate, and the next day, at 4 P.M., were abreast and in sight of the island Graciosa, the last of the group in our line of route, its rude outlines dimly seen through its misty shroud. The barren faces of these lofty islands present no indication of their fertility. They abound, however, in cereal grains, and produce an excellent wine. They are frequently resorted to by our whalers, and by homeward-bound Indiamen, for supplies.

A case of varioloid made its appearance on board; but so slight as to create no alarm, and in the opinion of the surgeon, did not require isolation. I had my misgivings, for it is but the milder type of a disease as insidious as it is loathsome; and, with the concurrence of the surgeon, purposed to have every officer and man vaccinated the first opportunity.

A SQUALL.

FRIDAY, DEC. 17. Made Cape St. Vincent, the “Sacrum Promontorium” of the Romans, the south-western extremity of vine-clad Portugal, as it is also of Europe. This is the second time we have made land upon a Friday. It was off this cape that Admiral John Jarvis gained his celebrated victory, and from it was derived the title of his patent of nobility.

During the night, the wind hauled to the southward and freshened to a gale, making it necessary to stand off from the shore. At 4 A.M., without an instant’s warning, the wind shifted in a squall, taking the sails aback, the most perilous position, with a heavy sea, in which a ship can be placed. Fortunately the courses were not set, and the noble ship, although pressed down and deeply buried, obeyed the reverse helm and paid off before the wind. Had she been less buoyant and seaworthy, she must have inevitably foundered. The squall subsided into a steady breeze, and passing Cape St. Vincent, we were, at meridian, abreast of the coast of romantic Spain — its mountains, towering as they receded from the shore, wreathed their craggy summits with the mist which floated in the distance.

TRAFALGAR.

SUNDAY, DEC. 19. Made Cape Trafalgar and sailed over the scene of the great conflict between the fleet of England and the combined fleets of France and Spain. Here, the great Collingwood broke the opposing line! There the heroic Nelson, the terror of his foes and the pride of his countrymen, nobly, but prematurely fell — his last pulsation an exultant throb, as the shout of victory rang in his dying ear. He died gloriously, for he fell in his country’s cause, but prematurely for his own fair fame. Had he lived his noble nature would have freed itself from the thraldom of a syren, and casting aside the seductions of the beautiful daughter of sin, his after life would have been as morally great, as his early deeds were unequalled in daring achievement.

We have now a mottled sky above us, and ride upon a tumultuous but not a stormy sea. The waves, like clumsy, living things, rush and tumble along in the utmost seeming disorder, and we have only the sweep of the wind and the surge of the sea, as the waves topple and break around and before us.

Then, the atmosphere was pure and the sky serene, and the gentle and undulating waves pressed the sides of the huge armaments they supported, their aspect lovely and their rippling sound melodious. The light breeze, bearing fragrance on its wing, wooed the upper sails of the advancing fleet in its soft embrace, and slowly propelled it towards the opposing line. A few brief moments, and how changed the scene! The balmy air became murky, sulphurous, and stifling, and one dark cloud, concealing earth, and sea, and sky, enveloped the commingled fleets, from whence came forth incessant flashes and resounding peals, which rivaled the red lightning and the loud thunder of an elemental strife. From amid this sound, frightful, yet stirring to the human heart, and appalling to every other creature, came other sounds, yet more harrowing — the shout of defiance, the shriek of agony and the yell of despair, — and fish, and bird, and every other living thing fled precipitately from the scene, leaving man, the monarch of creation, to slay his fellow man, the image of his august Creator! Such is battle! and he who rushes into it, impelled by other than the highest motives, perils more than life in the encounter. It is a glorious privilege to fight for one’s country; but, the seaman or the soldier who strikes for lucre or ambition, is an unworthy combatant. As the day advanced, the weather became tempestuous; huge clouds, swollen with rain, rose in rapid succession, and sweeping over, discharged themselves in heavy gusts. A mist of varying density, wreathed along the coast, was here and there disparted by a bold promontory, or sharp projecting rock.

THE MEDITERRANEAN

Fearful of being swept by the rapid currents upon the northern shore of the straits, into which we had now fairly entered, we hauled more to the southward, and soon, looming through the mist in gloomy grandeur, the mountains of Africa, lofty and majestic, rose upon the view.

Keeping thence the mid-channel, we soon passed Tarifa, the southern point of Europe, where the Saracens first landed under El Arif, from whom it derives its name. The waves were dashing wildly against its battlements, encircling them with a line of foam. Twice has this narrow strait been covered with Saracen flotillas. First, on their invasion of Spain, when they subjugated its fairest and most fertile portion; and secondly, when, overcome by the wily Ferdinand and the peerless Isabella, they fled disorderly from a land they had held so long, and loved so fondly. The Martello towers erected along the coast, attest the fears long entertained, and the vigilance long exercised to guard against invasion.

2:30 P.M. The clouds and mist, driven before the freshening wind, have left us a clear atmosphere. Ahead, is the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, held by the Romans, as its name imports, to be the centre of the earth. On either bow, is Calpe and Abyla, the pillars of Hercules, and termini of two continents.

GIBRALTAR

2:40. The strong current, and yet stronger wind, have propelled us so rapidly onward, that the “Rock” and the bay of Gibraltar are now in full view to the east and north. As the bay opened, the towns of St. Roque and Algesiras greeted us to the north and west. The former, directly ahead, as we steered for the anchorage, is situated on the summit of a high, rounded hill, separated from the surrounding ones by a luxuriant, circular valley. It is the most picturesque, and needs but foliage to be the most beautiful town, at a distance, I have ever beheld.

4 P.M. Anchored immediately abreast of the town of Gibraltar.

The rock of Gibraltar, abrupt on this, its western side, and on the other absolutely precipitous, has a summit line, sharp and rugged, terminating with a sheer descent on its northern face, and sloping gradually to Europa point at its south extreme. From an angle of the bay, this rock, 1400 feet high and three miles long, presents the exact appearance of a couchant lion; — his fore-paws gathered beneath him, his massive, shaggy head towards Spain, his fretted mane bristling against the sky, and his long and sweeping tail resting upon the sea.

Upon the debris on its western side, about one-third the distance from its northern end, the town is built, tier above tier, containing a crowded population of 15,000 souls, in a most contracted space. The houses, built of stone and covered with tile, are mostly small and incommodious, and their fronts are coated with a dark wash, to lessen the glare of the sun, which, from meridian until it sinks beneath the mountains of Andalusia, shines full upon them. With the exception of the upper part of the town, where alone the suburbs are, the confined and narrow streets and dwellings are badly ventilated; hence, in the summer season, epidemics are often rife and devastating.

DEFENCES OF GIBRALTAR

The entire water front of the bay is one continuous line of ramparts, and, from numerous apertures, the brazen mouths of artillery proclaim the invincible hold of its present possessors. It is said, that there is not one spot in the bay, on which at least one hundred cannon cannot be brought to bear. Its northern face, too, is excavated, and two tiers of chambers are pierced with embrasures, through which heavy pieces of ordnance point along the neutral ground upon the Spanish barrier. This neutral ground, a narrow isthmus, at its junction with the rock, but soon spreading out into a fiat, sandy plain, separates, by about half a mile, the respective jurisdictions of Great Britain and Spain.

Just within the Spanish barrier is a small village, containing fifty or sixty houses, a few constructed of stone, but most of them of thatched straw. What a contrast it presents to the cleanliness, order, and air of comfort which pervade the fortress, so short a distance from it! Ill clad, lazy men, lounging in the sun; homely, dirty, dishevelled women, with yet filthier children, seated in the door-ways; and hordes of importunate beggars, who, the dogs excepted, are the only active inhabitants of the place, all too plainly bespeak an unhappy and misgoverned country.

AN INCONSIDERATE VOW

South-west of the barrier, on the northern margin of the bay, are the ruins of fort St. Philip, erected during the siege of Gibraltar by the combined land and naval forces of France and Spain. Immediately north, on the first ridge of a mountain chain, which becomes more and more lofty in the distance until it is lost in the Sierra Nevada, is a rounded stone or semi-column, upon which, it is said, the Queen of Spain took her seat when the batteries opened upon the town and fortress of Gibraltar, solemnly protesting that she would not rise from it until the allied banners waved in the place of the blood-red flag of England. Like many another rash and inconsiderate vow, it was necessarily broken, and the mortification of defeat was enhanced by the recollection of her folly


About a mile west of the barrier, a narrow gully in the sand, which, in the winter, is partly filled with water, and in the summer perfectly dry, indicates the bed of the river Mayorgo, on the banks of which the populous city of Carteia once stood. Between these banks, how many a proud Roman and Carthaginian galley has passed, as the place fell alternately into the possession of either power! Of the thousands who inhabited that city, of the houses they dwelt in, and the walls, towers, and citadel which encircled and defended them, not a single vestige now remains. How transitory and fleeting is the life of man! In the midst of terrestrial cares, he is swept from existence, and the memory of the most favoured is scarce treasured beyond the first anniversary of his fall. Alas! “What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!”

SMALL-POX ON BOARD

We here took observations, to ascertain the rate of our chronometers, and purchased some chemical tests and an herbarium, for the Expedition. Having only stopped at Gibraltar for some mathematical instruments, ordered from London, we were in hourly expectation of their arrival, when an untoward event compelled us to sail without them. One of the officers [Lynch] had been violently ill for some days, and the skill of the surgeon was baffled to detect the character of the disease, when, on the morning of the fifth day, it developed unequivocal symptoms of the small-pox. My first thought was to seek a place, to which those who might be attacked could be removed as soon as taken, and thereby, as much as possible, retard the dissemination of the pestilence among the crew. My next consideration was to protect the crowded town and garrison, where we had been so hospitably received. I therefore immediately interdicted all communication with the shore, and, as soon as the weather would permit, sailed for Port Mahon, where the flag-ship was, and where there are extensive hospitals. The sick man knew, however, that before it could be reached, he must pass the ordeal. His feelings can be better imagined than described. Prostrate with a disease as malignant as it is loathsome; with a body inflamed and swollen, and a mind so racked with fever, that reason, from time to time, fairly tottered on her throne, he must naturally have longed to exchange his hard and narrow berth, and the stifling atmosphere of a ship, soon to be tossed about, the sport of the elements, for a softer and more spacious couch, a more airy apartment, and, above all, the quiet and the better attendance of the shore.

After a boisterous passage of eight days, we reached Port Mahon, where the invalid was hoisted out of the ship, and taken in his bed to the Lazaretto, or Lazar House, the most cheerless, bleak, and dreary quarters ever occupied for such a purpose. The few dismal weeks he spent there, unable to read and incapable of writing, will, doubtless, be long remembered by him.

Fortunately, there was but one additional case; and the ship, by repeated fumigations, and various modes of ventilation, was finally purged of the foul and festering disease.

PORT MAHON

Mahon, so named from Mago, the brother of Hannibal, is the chief town of the island of Minorca. It is beautifully situated at the northwest extremity of one of the most secure and spacious harbours in the world. This port, since the first introduction of a U. S. naval force in the Mediterranean, subsequent to the war with the free-booters of Barbary, has, with few exceptions, been the winter rendezvous of our squadrons stationed in that sea. Why it should be so, with the security of the anchorage its only recommendation, it is difficult to conceive. Other places there are, sufficiently secure, less isolated in their position, less tempestuous in their winter climate, abounding with classical associations and teeming with inducements to scientific research, far superior to Port Mahon. A place famed for the facilities it presents for acquiring, and the cheapness of indulging low and vicious habits: — famed for the circumstance that the senior officers, and all who can be spared from watch, abandon their ships and reside for months on shore; while many of the young and the inexperienced, and some of their superiors, spend much of their time and all their money in the haunts of the dissipated and the vile. I do not mean to reflect upon the respectable part of the population of Mahon, for there is not a more kind-hearted or gentle people in the world. But ignorance of the language compels most of our officers to keep aloof from a society, which, if it do not increase the refinement of their manners, should at least protect them from moral degradation.

DISADVANTAGES OF MAHON

Apart from all moral considerations, there are political ones why Port Mahon should not be the winter rendezvous of our squadron in the Mediterranean. Within twelve years, difficulties were once anticipated with France, and twice with England; — with the former power on the subject of indemnity, and with the latter on the questions of the north-eastern boundary and the disputed claim to Oregon. On these occasions, our depot was, and our squadrons mostly were, at this port, in a small island, two hundred miles distant from Toulon, the nearest point on the main land, and equi-distant from Gibraltar and Malta — all three strongholds of probable enemies. Its isolated position debars intelligence from the continent more frequently than once a month, and the first indication of hostilities might have been the summons of a hostile fleet. It is true that our commanders have received directions not to winter at Mahon, but orders are fruitless while commanders of squadrons claim the privilege of exercising their own judgment without regard to the instructions of the authorities at home. We found the flag-ship here, and here it is believed that the squadron will winter.

The islands of Minorca and Majorca form the Balearic isles, whence the Carthaginians and the Romans, as they successively conquered them, procured their Baleares or slingers. It is said, but untruly, that in Mahon, Hannibal took the well-known oath of vengeance against the unrelenting foe of his country. The oath was taken at Carthage.

The soil is thin, yet exceedingly productive; but so great are the trammels, alike on agriculture, commerce, and every branch of domestic manufacture, that the people are deplorably impoverished. Numerous beggars, and the yet more painful sight of abject poverty peeping from beneath the ragged skirts of pride, everywhere greet the eye.

Every day presents scenes calculated to make the philosopher moralize and the Christian weep. Alas! Poor Spain!

ANCIENT RUINS

FRIDAY, JAN. 28. Lieutenant Dale and I visited the talayots of Trepuco and Talatli, two Celtic ruins, with mounds and musae or altars. The first is in the midst of a circular fort with five bastions, behind which, tradition says, the inhabitants of the island defended themselves against the Moors. We thought the circumvallations more modern than the mound, or the musae or altars.

These ruins, and others on the island, are either monumental tombs or altars of sacrifice, on which human victims were most probably immolated. The Druids, or priests of the Celts, derived their religion, perhaps, from the Egyptians. How much labour and ingenuity that ancient people evinced in quarrying, transporting and elevating such enormous blocks! The exact manner in which they are placed with regard to the cardinal points, and being so accurately poised as to stand for many centuries, exhibit, also, no inconsiderable knowledge of geometry. Scarce a vestige remains of the nations that have subsequently possessed this island, while here stand these huge old stones and enormous piles, the mute, but expressive memorials of the most ancient people of all! Lieut. Dale took exact sketches of the mound of Trepuco and the musa of Talatli.

The Balearic isles, believed to have been settled by the Phoenicians, if not by the Celts long before them, have fallen successively under the yoke of the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Goths, the Saracens, the English and the Spaniards, — under the latter three times.