Leaves a sealing party on one of the islands near the coast

I had slept some hours, when I was awakened by Mr. Boneto’s order, and
informed that the land appeared to rise very much. I went immediately
on deck, and was astonished to see the land appear more than three
times as high as when we came to anchor. I at first attempted to
account for it by supposing some change in the atmosphere which
caused the land to loom; but was soon undeceived. One of the seamen
called out that there was a shoal even with the water close by. The
lead was immediately cast to see if the ship was driving, and but
two fathoms water were found alongside. In half an hour more we were
high and dry. Such was the astonishing rise and fall of the tide in
this high latitude! The bay, which had twenty fathoms water in the
centre at full sea, and ten fathoms a mile from the shore, was almost
entirely emptied; a small channel in the middle, not more than half
a mile wide, being all that was not left quite bare. There was no
immediate inconvenience to be apprehended from this circumstance;
but I was aware, that a tide that fell 70 or 80 feet perpendicular,
must return in a bore with prodigious violence, and was under more
apprehension of the consequences, than at any other period of my
voyage. I however concealed my fears from my officers and people, who
were much amused with the circumstance, and my apparent vexation at
finding my vessel high and dry on a mud bank, near the south pole. My
greatest fear was, that the tide might come in in a bore thirty or
forty feet high, and, striking the vessel as she lay aground, tumble
her over and dash her to pieces, no frame of timber being sufficient
to withstand such a shock. Happily, the stream of the ebb tide had
left us exactly stern to the flood. I ordered the boats to be hoisted
in and secured, and the anchors to be taken up, fastened in the dead
lights, put every thing below that was moveable, directed the men to
provide themselves with strong lashings, and ordered the engineer to
raise a head of steam, and have the engine in readiness for instant
motion. Thus prepared, I awaited the return of the tide. It came
in due time; and now my officers and men, who had been so merry at
my expense, evinced great consternation. The muscles of Slim’s face
were actually convulsed with terror at the sight of a wall of water,
stretching quite across the bay, apparently 30 or 40 feet high,
rolling towards us like a tremendous breaker, and with a roaring noise
like thunder. To all appearance, it would break over our mast head,
and consign us to one common grave. In mercy to the trembling Slim,
I desired him to step below and bring me my pea jacket, well knowing
he would not come up again until the danger was over. I then ordered
the companion-way and the hatches to be secured, directed my people
to lash themselves fast, and quietly wait the result. Here, I must
confess, I put up a silent prayer to Heaven, after a sailor’s fashion,
for preservation from the impending danger.
I have always found the fears and anticipation of danger to exceed the
reality. When the bore approached us, the bottom came rather faster
than the top, and its face was not quite perpendicular. The vessel
was fairly afloat on the foot of the wave, before the main body of
it struck her; and taking it square astern, she split and rose over
it in the most beautiful manner, without sustaining the slightest
injury. By backing with the paddles, we kept clear of the shore, on
which the impetus of the wave would have driven us, and soon after
anchored again in the middle of the bay in twenty fathoms water.
And here I would recommend to all navigators of the polar seas,
to avoid anchoring in less than twenty fathoms, until they have
accurately ascertained the rise and fall of the tides, at the full
and change of the moon.
When the companion-way was unbarred, Slim came up with my pea jacket,
and coolly observed, he was glad there was no damage done, adding,
“I was really afraid it might break our paddles.” In consequence of
this occurrence, I named this bay Take-in harbour.
We were occupied until noon, in returning things to their places,
getting the boats out, and preparing for an excursion on shore. At
noon I observed the altitude of the sun, and, after making accurate
allowance for the refraction, found Take-in harbour to be in latitude
83° 3′ south. This was much further south than the distance run by
log would make us, which I attributed to a strong current setting
us rapidly in that direction; but this I soon found to be an error,
and that the difference between the latitude by observation and dead
reckoning, arose from the form of the globe at the poles, lessening
the degrees of latitude.
After dinner, I landed with a strong party, leaving the vessel in
charge of Mr. Boneto. I took the horses and mules on shore, with
provisions for a week, intending to march to the highest land we could
find, to gain at once an extensive view of the coast and country. We
landed on the south side of the bay, and shaped our course for a
moderately elevated spot, which appeared to be the highest land,
due south about ten miles distant. We found the shore much like
that of the Falkland Islands, the only difference being that this
was much more level, and had greater extent of tussoc. After passing
through a border of tussoc about three miles wide, we reached an open
prairie country, with grass about four inches high. We were three
hours in gaining the elevated spot, from which we were enabled to
see the coast for a great distance on our left, and the sea along its
border, studded with islands. On the right, we could see nothing but
boundless prairie, with here and there a ridge like the one we were
upon. To the south, in the horizon, appeared something like a hill,
and to that I determined to go. Having taken some refreshments, we
took up the line of march. Slim, who was with me, as I did not think
it prudent to leave him on board, had been very docile until now: on
finding me determined to push into the interior so great a distance,
he became evidently uneasy. He dared not express his fears to me,
but took care that I should overhear him say to one of the men, “I
hope the captain won’t waste so much time in exploring this desert,
that we shall be obliged to go away without a full cargo of skins,
or run the risk of being obliged to winter here, so near the pole,
where we should certainly all freeze to death, in spite of every
thing we could do.” As this was a reasonable apprehension in the mind
of an ignorant man, I endeavoured to remove his fears by calling his
attention to the tussoc grass and other plants, and asked him how they
survived the winter, if the cold was so intense as he supposed? and
advanced the opinion that wherever plants can sustain the cold of
winter, and retain their vitality, man can exist, with the aid of
good clothing and artificial heat.
A fatiguing march of 15 miles brought us to the hill, which we found
to be the highest part of a ridge of moderate elevation running
from the coast in a S. S. W. direction into the interior. We were
amply compensated for our trouble in wading through the grass, as
this eminence afforded an extensive view of the country in every
direction. The S. E. side of this ridge broke off very abruptly, in
some places perpendicularly; and at its foot was a large and beautiful
river, full a mile in width, flowing from the S. S. W. Beyond it was
a prairie country, gently waving and rising into sloping hills in
the distant horizon. Far up the river I could descry with my glass
a few trees, towards which I felt a strong inclination to proceed;
but being excessively fatigued, thought best to devote a few hours to
refreshment. After a comfortable meal, and a sound nap of four hours,
I descended the precipice to ascertain whether the river was an arm of
the sea, or a fresh water stream. It proved to be pure potable water,
and the existence of a continent near the south pole, was thus fully
established.
I had not been long on the bank of this river, before I found cause
to doubt the prudence of venturing thus far by land into an unknown
country, in the appearance of fresh tracks of some huge land animal,
which were larger than the bottom of a water bucket. Whether they
were those of a white polar bear as big as an elephant, of a mammoth,
or of some other enormous nondescript animal, I could not guess. I
re-ascended the hill with all practicable expedition, collected my men,
and hastened towards the ship as fast as possible.
We reached the ship after six hours constant marching, all completely
tired out, our horses and mules being too feeble to travel, from long
confinement on ship-board.
The discoveries I had already made were so far from satisfying my
ambition, that my desire to push on and explore the internal world
was more intense than ever. I was now convinced of the correctness of
Capt. Symmes’s theory, and of the practicability of sailing into the
globe at the south pole, and of returning home by way of the north
pole, if no land intervened to obstruct the passage. My first thought
was to enter the river I had seen, and ascend to its source, which
must necessarily be in the internal world; for if the poles were open,
there was not room enough for a sufficient body of land to the south of
84 degrees, to maintain so mighty a river. But I abandoned this idea,
on reflecting that by confining myself to this river, I should at best
enter the internal world but a few hundred miles, while by entering on
the open ocean, I should be able to visit every accessible part of it.
My first business was to make such arrangements as would satisfy my
crew, and to ascertain the condition of the country in the immediate
vicinity. I therefore landed a sealing party of thirty men, under
Mr. Boneto, assisted by Mr. Slim, on one of the islands, and proceeded
with the Explorer to the mouth of the great river. We found the access
to the river easy and safe; the chain of islands off the mouth of it
broke the swell of the sea. Having ascertained its mouth to be in 83°
47′ south latitude, by observation, I proceeded up with two boats
ahead, taking care to move only with the flood tide, and to anchor
in deep water.
The banks for the first 30 miles were fringed with tussoc. Above that
some trees appeared; and at the distance of 40 miles, the banks were
skirted with a strip of dense forest, of moderately sized trees. We
proceeded 10 miles further up, when the country appeared to be
chiefly covered with large trees, wide apart, with no undergrowth
between them, excepting on some low spots near the river, with here
and there a spot of open prairie.
Having anchored the Explorer in a safe situation, I landed with a
boat’s crew at one of the open spaces, to examine the productions of
the land, and see if I could discover any indications of inhabitants,
I found the timber to be mostly different from that which I was
acquainted with, excepting a species of fir resembling our spruce. I
was much pleased to see wood of this description, and immediately
ordered the launch on shore, with the axes and all our disposable
force. We were busily engaged for three days in filling the Explorer
with wood for fuel, and, after stowing her quite full, piled as much
on deck as I thought she would bear, including timber for constructing
winter quarters for the sealing party.


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All fears of the consequences of wintering in this region were now
done away. Where trees could live, I could live. I determined to
erect a secure establishment for my sealing party, and pursue my
discoveries as far as practicable. While the wood-cutting was going
on, I did not venture far from the river–I had not forgotten the big
tracks. I was always on shore with the party, to be ready for events,
taking the people all on board with me when I wanted a four hours’ nap.
I employed myself in searching for curiosities, collecting geological,
mineralogical, and ornithological specimens, sea fowl and land birds
being very numerous in this country, and in gathering plants to enrich
my hortus siccus, for the benefit of the learned when I should return
home. My researches were rewarded by the discovery of some enormous
bones, possibly of a whale, which being, according to very high
authority, no fish, might at some former period have got on shore in
this high latitude, after the fashion of the other visitants from the
internal world. As they were very large, I called them mammoth bones
of course, had them all carefully taken on board, and packed in boxes,
as an invaluable acquisition to the scientific world.
On the third day a cry of terror called my attention. I saw the men all
running for the boats, and thought it best to follow their example. We
had all got into the boats, and shoved off into deep water, before
I could ascertain the cause of the alarm, when the appearance of an
enormous animal on the ground we had left answered my inquiries. The
huge beast walked to the edge of the water at a moderate pace, and
stopped to survey us new comers with great composure. I ordered Jack
Whiffle, who was an excellent marksman, to give him a shot from a
three-pounder, mounted in the bow of the launch, and at the same time
gave him a volley of musketry. Whether the shot took effect or not,
could not be discovered. He returned to the woods without haste or
fright, and thus deprived me of the pleasure of securing his skin
and skeleton, for the examination of the learned, and the benefit of
Scudder’s Museum.
There was nothing to be gained by a longer continuance in this river,
and I felt no disposition to penetrate into forests, frequented by
animals large enough to be called mammoth, a name which appears to
be applicable to all big things. At this place, fifty miles from its
mouth, the river was full a mile in width, and twenty fathoms deep at
low tide. Taking into consideration its unusual magnitude and depth,
and the large animal seen upon its bank, I named it Mammoth River.
We arrived at Take-in harbour next day. Mr. Boneto’s party had been
actively employed, and had already secured seven thousand seal skins. I
collected all my officers on board, and acquainted them with such of my
plans as I thought it prudent to disclose. The first was to land thirty
of the crew at a group of islands which formed a snug harbour near
the mouth of Mammoth River; to erect on one of the islands sufficient
buildings to protect them from the severity of the winter, in case
it should become necessary to remain there until another season,
and large enough to contain a fair share of all the stores on board,
in proportion to their numbers, so that they might fare as well as
those who remained in the ship. I told them that I should proceed to
the S. E. along the coast, to ascertain where was the best sealing
ground to remove to when these Islands should be cleared of seals,
and to discover whether the land extended a sufficient distance on
the other side of the pole to open a passage for us to sail over the
pole, and thus proceed to Canton by steering due north, which would
save a great deal of time. This was all according to their notions
of things; but I was well aware that when they would suppose we were
sailing northward on the other side of the globe, we should in fact
be sailing directly into it through the opening. No objections were
made to this plan, as it all seemed feasible enough. But I was at a
loss as to the officers I should leave with this party. In exploring
the internal regions, I should want all my best officers; and although
Slim was an excellent sealer, it would not do to leave him with the
command of the party, for I should be sure to find the men all ripe
for mutiny on my return. I at last determined to give Mr. Boneto the
charge of the establishment, with the boatswain to assist him; to
keep Albicore, Slim, and Mackerel in the ship, and give Jack Whiffle
the birth of acting boatswain.
We were a week briskly engaged in carrying these arrangements into
effect. Extensive buildings were erected of stone and wood, having
a centre room, to which no external air could gain access, without
passing through the flue of a stove. The store rooms were detached
from the dwelling, that the stores might be saved in case of fire. A
covered way quite around all the buildings, as well as from one to
the other, was constructed, and the whole covered four feet thick
on the sides and roof with the bog of the tussoc, timber and stone
being placed on it to keep it from being forced off by high winds.
Having thus prepared for the safety and comfort of my people, I gave
Mr. Boneto written instructions how to proceed in all imaginable
cases, but especially cautioned him against going on to the main land,
lest he should be destroyed by the mammoth animal.
Aware that there was a possibility that I might miscarry, and never get
back to this place. I devoted a day to the performance of a necessary
duty to my country, namely, taking possession of the country I had
discovered, in the name and on behalf of the people of the United
States of America. I first drew up a manifesto, setting forth, that I,
Adam Seaborn, mariner, a citizen of the United States of America, did,
on the 5th day of November, Anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and
seventeen, first see and discover this southern continent, a part of
which was between 78° and 84° south latitude, and stretching to the
N. W., S. E., and S. W., beyond my knowledge; which land having never
before been seen by any civilized people, and having been occupied for
the full term of eighteen days by citizens of the said United States,
whether it should prove to be in possession of any other people or not,
provided they were not Christians, was and of right ought to be the
sole property of the said people of the United States, by right of
discovery and occupancy, according to the usages of Christian nations.
Having completed this important paper, which I composed with great
care, knowing that many wars had been waged for a less cause than
a right to so valuable a continent, I had it engraved on a plate
of sheathing copper, with a spread eagle at the top, and at the
bottom a bank, with 100 dollar bills tumbling out of the doors
and windows, to denote the amazing quantity and solidity of the
wealth of my country. When it was completed by the blacksmith,
who was something of a proficient in the fine arts, I went on shore
with all the officers and men that could be spared from the ship,
taking my music, two pieces of cannon, some wine for my officers,
and plenty of grog for the men. We marched up the shore with great
pomp, the music playing and colours flying, to a convenient spot,
where I buried the copper plate, and rolled upon it as large a stone
as the whole ship’s company could move, and ordered the blacksmith to
engrave upon it, in large deep letters, “Seaborn’s Land, A. D. 1817.”
A liberty pole was then erected on the spot, and the standard of the
United States displayed upon it; all of which being accomplished,
I ordered a salute to be fired of one gun for every State. “How many
will that be, sir?” asked Mr. Boneto, adding, that they came so fast
he could not keep the run of them. Slim said it was twenty-one. I
objected to that number, as being the royal salute of Great-Britain,
and settled the matter by telling them to fire away till they were
tired of it, and finish off with a few squibs for the half-made
States. We completed the ceremony with a plenty of grog, and reiterated
huzzas, as usual, and thus established the title of the United States
to this newly discovered country, in the most incontestible manner,
and strictly according to rule.