Departure from Greenock in the Brig Laurel
. – Fitting-up of the Vessel. – Boy Passenger. – Sea Prospect. – Want of Occupation and Amusement. – Captain’s Goldfi nch. Brig
Laurel, July 18, 1832.
I received your last kind letter, my dearest mother, only a few hours before we set sail from Greenock. As you express a wish that I should give you a minute detail of our voyage, I shall take up my subject from the time of our embarkation, and write as inclination prompts me. Instead of having reason to complain of short letters, you will, I fear, fi nd mine only too prolix.
After many delays and disappointments, we succeeded at last in obtaining a passage in a fast-sailing brig, the Laurel
, of Greenock; and favourable winds are now rapidly carrying us across the Atlantic.
is not a regular passenger-ship, which I consider an advantage, for what we lose in amusement and variety we assuredly gain in comfort. The cabin is neatly fi tted up, and I enjoy the luxury (for such it is, compared with the narrow berths of the state cabin) of a handsome sofa, with crimson draperies, in the great cabin. The state cabin is also ours. We paid fi fteen pounds each for our passage to Montreal. This was high, but it includes every expense; and, in fact, we had no choice. The only vessel in the river bound for Canada, was a passenger-ship literally swarming with emigrants, chiefl y of the lower class of Highlanders.
The only passengers besides ourselves in the Laurel
are the captain’s nephew, a pretty yellow-haired lad, about fi fteen years of age, who works his passage out, and a young gentleman who is going out as clerk in a merchant’s house in Quebec. He seems too much wrapped up in his own affairs to be very communicative to others; he walks much, talks little, and reads less; but often amuses himself by singing as he paces the deck, “Home, sweet home,” and that delightful song by Camoens, “Isle of beauty.” It is a sweet song, and I can easily imagine the charm it has for a home-sick heart.
I was much pleased with the scenery of the Clyde; the day we set sail was a lovely one, and I remained on deck till nightfall. The morning light found our vessel dashing gallantly along, with a favourable breeze, through the north channel; that day we saw the last of the Hebrides, and before night lost sight of the north coast of Ireland. A wide expanse of water and sky is now our only prospect, unvaried by any object save the distant and scarcely to be traced outline of some vessel just seen at the verge of the horizon, a speck in the immensity of space, or sometimes a few sea-fowl. I love to watch these wanderers of the ocean, as they rise and fall with the rocking billows, or fl it about our vessel; and often I wonder whence they came, to what distant shore they are bound, and if they make the rude wave their home and resting-place during the long day and dark night; and then I recall to mind the words of the American poet, Bryant, –
“He who from zone to zone
Guides through the boundless air their certain fl ight,
In the long way that I must tread alone
Will guide my steps aright.”
Though we have been little more than a week on board, I am getting weary of the voyage. I can only compare the monotony of it to being weather-bound in some country inn. I have already made myself acquainted with all the books worth reading in the ship’s library; unfortunately, it is chiefl y made up with old novels and musty romances.
When the weather is fi ne I sit on a bench on the deck, wrapped in my cloak, and sew, or pace the deck with my husband, and talk over plans for the future, which in all probability will never be realized. I really do pity men who are not actively employed: women have always their needle as a resource against the overwhelming weariness of an idle life; but where a man is confi ned to a small space, such as the deck and cabin of a trading vessel, with nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to do, and nothing to read, he is really a very pitiable creature.
There is one passenger on board that seems perfectly happy, if one may judge from the liveliness of the songs with which he greets us whenever we approach his cage. It is “Harry,” the captain’s goldfi nch – “the captain’s mate
,” as the sailors term him. This pretty creature has made no fewer than twelve voyages in the Laurel
. “It is all one to him whether his cage is at sea or on land, he is still at home,” said the captain, regarding his little favourite with an air of great affection, and evidently gratifi ed by the attention I bestowed on his bird.
I have already formed a friendship with the little captive. He never fails to greet my approach with one of his sweetest songs, and will take from my fi ngers a bit of biscuit, which he holds in his claws till he has thanked me with a few of his clearest notes. This mark of acknowledg ment is termed by the steward, “saying grace.”
If the wind still continues to favour us, the captain tells us we shall be on the banks of Newfoundland in another week. Farewell for the present.
Excerpted from The Backwoods of Canada by Catharine Parr Traill, Afterword by D.M.R. Bentley. Copyright © 2010 by Catharine Parr Traill, Afterword by D.M.R. Bentley. Excerpted by permission of New Canadian Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.