List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

the family, as soon as we had crossed the lake I took
him up to the Castle, and acted cicerone to its pictures
and heirlooms,--the gleaming stands of muskets, whose
fire wrought such fatal ruin at Culloden;--the portrait
of the beautiful Irish girl, twice a Duchess, whom the
cunning artist has painted with a sunflower that turns
FROM the sun to look at her;--Gillespie Grumach himself,
as grim and sinister-looking as in life.--the trumpets
to carry the voice from the hall door to Dunnaquaich;--the
fair beech avenues, planted by the old Marquis, now
looking with their smooth grey boles, and overhanging
branches, like the cloisters of an abbey the vale of
Esechasan, to which, on the evening before his execution,
the Earl wrote such touching verses; the quaint old
kitchen-garden; the ruins of the ancient Castle, where
worthy Major Dalgetty is said to have passed such uncom-
fortable moments;--the Celtic cross from lone Iona:--all
and everything I showed off with as much pride and
pleasure, I think, as if they had been my own possessions;
and the more so as the Icelander himself evidently
sympathised with such Scald-like gossip.

Having thoroughly overrun the woods and lawns of Inverary,
we had a game of chess, and went to bed pretty well tired.

The next morning, before breakfast, I went off in a boat
to Ardkinglass to see my little cousins; and then returning
about twelve, we got a post-chaise, and crossing the
boastful Loch Awe in a ferry-boat, reached Oban at
nightfall. Here I had the satisfaction of finding the
schooner already arrived, and of being joined by the
Doctor, just returned from his fruitless expedition to



Stornaway, Island of Lewis, Hebrides, June 9, 1856.

We reached these Islands of the West the day before
yesterday, after a fine run from Oban.

I had intended taking Staffa and Iona on my way, but it
came on so thick with heavy weather from the south-west,
that to have landed on either island would have been out
of the question. So we bore up under Mull at one in the
morning, tore through the Sound at daylight, rounded
Ardnamurchan under a double-reefed mainsail at two P.M.,
and shot into the Sound of Skye the same evening, leaving
the hills of Moidart (one of whose "seven naen" was an
ancestor of your own), and the jaws of the hospitable
Loch Hourn, reddening in the stormy sunset.

At Kylakin we were obliged to bring up for the night;
but getting under weigh again at daylight, we took a fair
wind with us along the east coast of Skye, passed Raasa
and Rona, and so across the Minch to Stornaway.

Stornaway is a little fishing-town with a beautiful
harbour, from out of which was sailing, as we entered,
a fleet of herring-boats, their brown sails gleaming like
gold against the dark angry water as they fluttered out
to sea, unmindful of the leaden clouds banked up along
the west, and all the symptoms of an approaching gale.
The next morning it was upon us; but brought up as we
were under the lea of a high rock, the tempest tore
harmlessly over our heads, and left us at liberty to make
the final preparations for departure.

Fitz, whose talents for discerning where the vegetables,
fowls, and pretty ladies of a place were to be found, I
had already had occasion to admire, went ashore to forage;
while I remained on board to superintend the fixing of
our sacred figure-head--executed in bronze by Marochetti--
and brought along with me by rail, still warm from the

For the performance of this solemnity I luckily possessed
a functionary equal to the occasion, in the shape of the
second cook. Originally a guardsman, he had beaten his
sword into a chisel, and become carpenter; subsequently
conceiving a passion for the sea, he turned his attention
to the mysteries of the kitchen, and now sails with me
in the alternate exercise of his two last professions.
This individual, thus happily combining the chivalry
inherent in the profession of arms with the skill of the
craftsman and the refinement of the artist--to whose
person, moreover, a paper cap, white vestments, and the
sacrificial knife at his girdle, gave something of a
sacerdotal character--I did not consider unfit to raise
the ship's guardian image to its appointed place; and
after two hours' reverential handiwork, I had the
satisfaction of seeing the well-known lovely face, with
its golden hair, and smile that might charm all malice
from the elements, beaming like a happy omen above our

Shortly afterwards Fitz came alongside, after a most
successful foray among the fish-wives. He was sitting in
the stern-sheets, up to his knees in vegetables, with
seven elderly hens beside him, and a dissipated-looking
cock under his arm, with regard to whose qualifications
its late proprietor had volunteered the most satisfactory
assurances.  I am also bound to mention, that protruding
from his coat-pocket were certain sheets of music, with
the name of "Alice Louisa," written therein in a remarkably
pretty hand, which led me to believe that the Doctor had
not entirely confined his energies to the acquisition of
hens and vegetables.  The rest of the day was spent in
packing away our newly-purchased stores, and making the
ship as tidy as circumstances would admit. I am afraid,
however, many a smart yachtsman would have been scandalized
at our decks, lumbered up with hen-coops, sacks of coal,
and other necessaries, which, like the Queen of Spain's
legs, not only ought never to be seen, but must not be
supposed even to exist, on board a tip-top craft.

By the evening, the gale, which had been blowing all day,
had increased to a perfect hurricane. At nine o'clock we
let go a second anchor; and I confess, as we sat comfortably
round the fire in the bright cheerful little cabin, and
listened to the wind whistling and shrieking through the
cordage, that none of us were sorry to find ourselves in
port on such a night, instead of tossing on the wild
Atlantic--though we little knew that even then the
destroying angel was busy with the fleet of fishing-boats
which had put to sea so gallantly on the evening of our
arrival. By morning the neck of the gale was broken, and
the sun shone brightly on the white rollers as they chased
each other to the shore; but a Queen's ship was steaming
into the bay, with sad news of ruin out to seaward;--towing
behind her, boats, water-logged, or bottom upwards,--while
a silent crowd of women on the quay were waiting to learn
on what homes among them the bolt had fallen.

About twelve o'clock the Glasgow packet came in, and a
few minutes afterwards I had the honour of receiving on
my quarter-deck a gentleman who seemed a cross between
the German student and swell commercial gent. On his head
he wore a queer kind of smoking-cap, with the peak cocked
over his left ear; then came a green shooting-jacket,
and flashy silk tartan waistcoat, set off by a gold chain,
hung about in innumerable festoons,--while light trousers
and knotty Wellington boots completed his costume, and
made the wearer look as little like a seaman as need be.
It appeared, nevertheless, that the individual in question
was Mr. Ebenezer Wyse, my new sailing-master; so I accepted
Captain C.'s strong recommendation as a set-off against
the silk tartan; explained to the new comer the position
he was to occupy on board, and gave orders for sailing
in an hour.  The multitudinous chain, moreover, so lavishly
displayed, turned out to be an ornament of which Mr. Wyse
might well be proud; and the following history of its
acquisition reconciled me more than anything else to my
Master's unnautical appearance.

Some time ago there was a great demand in Australia for
small river steamers, which certain Scotch companies
undertook to supply. The difficulty, however, was to get
such fragile tea-kettles across the ocean; five started
one after another in murderous succession, and each came
to grief before it got half-way to the equator; the sixth
alone remained with which to try a last experiment. Should
she arrive, her price would more than compensate the
pecuniary loss already sustained, though it could not
bring to life the hands sacrificed in the mad speculation;
by this time, however, even the proverbial recklessness
of the seamen of the port was daunted, and the hearts of
two crews had already failed them at the last moment of
starting, when my friend of the chain volunteered to take
the command. At the outset of his voyage everything went
well; a fair wind (her machinery was stowed away, and
she sailed under canvas) carried the little craft in an
incredibly short time a thousand miles to the southward
of the Cape, when one day, as she was running before the
gale, the man at the wheel--startled at a sea which he
thought was going to poop her--let go the helm; the vessel
broached to, and tons of water tumbled in on the top of
the deck. As soon as the confusion of the moment had
subsided, it became evident that the shock had broken
some of the iron plates, and that the ship was in a fair
way of foundering. So frightened were the crew, that,
after consultation with each other, they determined to
take to the boats, and all hands came aft, to know whether
there was anything the skipper would wish to carry off
with him.  Comprehending the madness of attempting to
reach land in open boats at the distance of a thousand
miles from any shore, Wyse pretended to go into the cabin
to get his compass, chronometer, etc., but returning
immediately with a revolver in each hand, swore he would
shoot the first man who attempted to touch the boats.
This timely exhibition of spirit saved their lives: soon
after the weather moderated; by undergirding the ship
with chains, St. Paul fashion, the leaks were partially
stopped, the steamer reached her destination, and was
sold for 7,000 pounds a few days after her arrival.  In
token of their gratitude for the good service he had done

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: