THE REALISM OF DESERT ISLANDS.*
CAPTALN MUSGRAVE, who has tried it, is no admirer of desert- island romance. Indeed he speaks bitterly of it. When he had been trying it for some fifteen months, he writes, " The sea booms and the wind howls. These are sounds which have been almost constantly ringing in my ears for the last fifteen months, for during the whole of this time I venture to say that they have not been hushed more than a fortnight together. There is something horribly dismal in this boom and howl ; sometimes it makes my flesh creep to hear them, although I am now so well used to it. Had the romantic admirers of this sort of thing been in my place, I would have been thankful; and they, I have no doubt, would have been quite satisfied. I would not wish my greatest enemy to have been similarly situated." But then it must be admitted that Captain Musgrave's desert island was not quite of the sort that we used to wish for. In the first place it was a very wet desert Wand, where it rained almost all the year round, and there is something ex- ceedingly damping, not only to the skin, but to‘he heroic imagina- tion, about getting wet through habitually. In the next place, it was a very hungry desert island, where you could gather nothing of im- portance to satisfy your hunger in the shape of fruits or roots, and where seal-meat was the only nutriment commonly pro- curable, and that by no means in abundance when once the seals got notice of the seal-eating habits of the new inhabitants. Now hunger become habitual is a prosaic and disagreeable condition of body, and seal-meat, except when very young and tender, is coarse, oily, and rather rancid. In the third place, the mosquitoes, or rather sand-flies, bit intolerably all the year round, very nearly as badly when the thermometer was six or seven degrees below the freezing point as in the so-called summer. Now the irritation arising from the bites of saud-flies is a very great hindrance to romance, as anybody who has lived on the sea shore in a tropical climate very well knows. Such were the positive hindrances to any of the joys of Crusoeism, if any such there are. On the other hand, there was the constant craving to get away, to know how those at home were bearing their anxiety, and whether they would send to succour them—(the destination of the shipwrecked party was known, and Captain Musgrave had expressly told his Australian friends, that he feared shipwreck much more on the coast of the Auckland islands when he had reached them for sealing purposes, than he did any mischance in the open sea)—and in short, all those terrible " searchings of heart" which constitute to imagi- native readers part of the romantic fascinations of Crnsoe stories, though we do not suppose they are of the same nature to actual adventurers. One of the romantic class of adventurers with whom Captain Musgrave kindly wishes to exchange places would probably have been a good deal disappointed in not discovering more novelties on the island. A genuine Crusoe ought undoubtedly to find some new source of wealth and consolation every week or so; new varieties of food ; new animals capable of being tamed and used ; perhaps now and then a trace of savages to inspire terror ; and now and then a distant sail to inspire hope. But none of these varieties of circumstance came to break the monotony of Captain Musgrave's captivity. He found indeed that there were wild dogs in the island, probably left there, or their progenitors • Castaway on The Auckland hits. A Narrative of the Wrack of the Grafton, and of the Escape of the Crew after Twenty Months' Suffering ; from the Private Journal of Captain Thomas Musgrave. Edited by John J. ShiHinglaw, F.R.O.S. Loudon: Lockwood and Co.
left there, by the crew of some former shipwreck, and that there were also cats in the island, one of which they half tamed, the cats of course being at internecine war with the dogs. But these, except the seals and a few birds, called by the captain widgeons, were nearly the only live creatures, and the vegetable products of the island seem to have been singularly few and poor. Then the walking through the bushy swamps was singularly exhausting, and the sailing on the gulfs and inland bays was so precarious, owing to the constant and tremendous gales, that locomotion was difficult, and life on the island was assuredly an embarrassed existence.
Captain Musgrave and his men bore their compulsory romance with a highly creditable fortitude. It was well for them that the captain and his mate, Mr. Raynal, retained sufficient moral au- thority over the three men, even after the wreck, to keep the society together. When the captain and his mate and one of the men finally escaped in a boat, too small and unsafe to carry all five, leaving two alone together on the island for five weeks to wait for their return, the society (consisting of two) was dissolved into its elements, and on Captain Musgrave's return he found that the two men left together had quarrelled so much that they were on the
point of separating, to live absolutely alone for the remainder of their imprisonment. In spite of the need of combination for the war against nature,—they had been very near starving,—the selfish repulsions had developed so tremendously after the removal of the slight social authority of the captain and mate, that the two men had agreed to be really solitary rather than have only each other's society. The captain and Mr. Raynal (the mate) of course ceased to have any legal authority directly the vessel went to pieces, but their moral superiority to the others was fortunately not, as
shortlived as their legal authority. Both were good and brave and ingenious men. The captain directed amidst circumstances of great difficulty—the whole party had to stand all day up to their
middle in water, with the thermometer near to the freezing point— the hauling up of the old wreck on the beach, and the examination of her bottom to see if they could make her seaworthy. When this was found impossible, they set to work on the ship's boat to raise her sides, and make her altogether more seaworthy. The boat was only a dingy, and very ricketty. By hard and combined
work they made her a little more fit for an open-sea voyage in a sea remarkable for the terrible character of its gales. Mr. Raynal was something of a blacksmith, and made one hundred and eighty clinch bolts and above seven hundred nails out of the iron of the old vessel. To do this he worked at his anvil often far into the night, and the three men appear to have worked under his and the captain's directions with praiseworthy assiduity. The captain also taught the men to read, which they were very eager to learn.
The value of this moral authority was curiously illustrated by the inability of the two men,—who were in the most admirable situa- tion conceivable for illustrating theories of liberty, fraternity, and equality,—to hold together when the attraction of cohesion provided by the presence of their superiors in intelligence and culture was removed.
Captain Musgrave himself is evidently from his journal a man of very strong feelings, both religious and domestic, which are very simply and often well expressed from day to day. There is in him a touch of boyish admiration for sentiments not nearly as
strong as his own, but expressed with a little more glow of fancy, —a sort of admiration far from uncommon in strong practical men little conversant with literature. Take, for instance, this mention of " the one consolation remaining to him" when he had passed about half the term of his imprisonment:— "I have still one consolation remaining, in those beautiful words of Thomas Moore :— Let Fate do her worst, there are relics of joy, Bright gems of the past which she cannot destroy ; That come in the night-time of sorrow and oars, And bring back the features that joy used to wear. Long, long may my heart with such mem'ries be filled Like a vase in which roses have once been distilled. You may break, you may ruin the vase as you will, But the scent of the roses will hang round it still."
The worthy sailor had set down at least fifty times in his journal feelings far deeper and consolations far stronger than this ; but in spite of his contempt for those who liked the " romance " of Crusoeism, it is obvious that there was a romantic spot in his own mind, which clung to the idea of his heart being like a vase
ka filled with rose-leaves, as a glorifying consideration amidst those rancid seal-meat dinners, and that generally weary, hopeless, laborious, and squalid existence.
The most amusing part of the volume is the account of the seals and their habits. It is evident that there is an opportunity for an improvement in the instincts or habits of seals, which would give any variety of seal adopting it a very great advantage over the present species in " the conflict for existence." Captain Musgrave thus describes the certainly at present very ill- organized methods of physical and mental education pursued by the maternal seals towards their young
" In the latter part of December, and during the whole of January,. they are on shore a great deal, and go wandering separately through the bush (or woods), and into the long grass on the sides of the moun- tains above the bush, constantly bellowing out in a most dismal manner. They are undoubtedly looking for a place suitable-for calving in; I have known them to go to a distance of more than a mile from the water for this purpose. Their voice is exceedingly powerful, and in calm weather may be heard to the almost incredible distance of four and a half or five miles. Why they bellow so much before calving, I am scarcely able to judge ; but after that event, which does not take place until after the first of February, it is undoubtedly to call their young, which they generally get into the water a few days after they are born, and assemble them in great numbers at some particular place, selecting such places. as a small island or a neck of land with a narrow junction. This, no. doubt, prevents them from getting straggled about and lost, as they do sometimes in the bush ; while in these places they cannot very well get away without going into the water, to which, when very young, they have a great antipathy. The means employed by the cow of getting her young into the water for the first time, and taking it to a place of safety, is when witnessed highly amusing. It might be supposed that these animals, even when young, would readily go into the water—that being one of their natural instincts—but strange to say such is not the case ; it is only with the greatest difficulty, and a wonderful display of patience, that the mother succeeds in getting her young in for the first time. I have known a cow to be three days getting her calf down half a mile, and into the water ; and what is most surprising of all, it cannot swim when it is in the water. This is the most amusing fact; the mother gets it on to her back, and swims along very gently on the top of the water ; but the poor little thing is bleating all the time, and con- tinually falling from its slippery position, when it will splutter about in the water precisely like a little boy who gets beyond his depth and cannot swim. Then the mother gets underneath it, and it again gets on to her back. Thus they go on, the mother frequently giving an angry bellow, the young one constantly bleating and crying, frequently falling off, spluttering, and getting on again; very often getting a slap from the flipper of the mother, and sometimes she gives it a very cruel bite. The poor little animals are very often seen with their skins pierced and lacerated in the most frightful manner. In this manner they go on until they have made their passage to whatever place she wishes to take the young one to ; sometimes they are very numerous at these places, their numbers being daily augmented until the latter end of March. Here the young remain without going into the water again, for perhaps a month, when they will begin to go in of their own accord; but at first they Kill only play about the edge, venturing farther by degrees ; and until they are three months old, if surprised in the water,. they will immediately run on shore and hide themselves ; but they always keep their heads out, and their eyes fixed on the party who has surprised them, imploring mercy in the most eloquent language that can be communicated by these organs."
Now cows that go to calve so far from the sea, and that take the young ones back to the sea before they are any' etter inclined to swim than babies would be, must clearly be under a great dis- advantage in the conflict for existence with a variety that should succeed in calving near the water, and have young ones with earlier propensities to swim, and not requiring so much severe chastising for falling off their mothers' backs. And should some (so-called) accidental variety spring up in which either of these two ill-advised habits should be wanting, we suppose their race would soon get a start over the decidedly clumsy race of seals with whom Captain Musgrave made acquaintance. Mothers of all species are apt to be guilty of works of supererogation towards their young,—supererogation both in tenderness and slaps,—but we have seldom heard of mothers apparently more disposed to works of supererogation than Captain Musgrave's cow seals. Per- haps, however, he would prefer the kind which he used for the purposes of shipwrecked mariners. Disagreeable as the old seal- meat always was, he speaks with a kind of rapture of the young, calf seal-meat as quite equal to lamb. And no doubt they might have found it more difficult sometimes to obtain such a delicacy, but for the painful and embarrassing etiquette which obliged the maternal seals to produce their calves a long way from the sea, in. order that they might have the difficulty of getting them down. to it.