Thomas Lowe Rounds the Horn

Early 1900's sailing ship in a bottle

A Sailing ship in a bottle, from early 1900’s

Thomas Lowe has set sail on the ship, Vancouver, which (in my last blogpost) has just sailed past Falkland Islands on its way southward, sailing through the waters of the Southern Atlantic Ocean on its way to round Cape Horn. Lowe is on his way to Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River — the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company on the Pacific Coast. He won’t make it to Fort Vancouver, however, or at least not until a few years have passed. Here is how his journal reads:

29 [November, 1841], Monday. Wind foul with a heavy Sea. We are under the necessity of running far to the South and find it desperately cold. The most of the birds have left us and returned to the [Falkland] Islands as this is the pairing season. During the day we were enabled to lay rather nearer our course. 

30, Tuesday. This is St. Andrews Day, and my 17th birthday. As most of us are Scotch, we had a regale in honor of the day. Mr. [Alexander] Simpson tells me that every Scotchman in the Company’s Service keeps St. Andrews Day as a holiday, and generally have a blowout. As the wind has been contrary we have tacked several times, and upon the whole made a good days run. The weather is every day getting colder and of course we feel it uncomfortable as there is no fire allowed in the Cabin on account of the large quantity of Gunpowder (105 Barrels) we have on board. 

How interesting! I have discovered that the London Ships that sailed into Hudson Bay only shut down their cabin fires when the barrels of gunpowder were being unloaded at York Factory. This ship captain was being much more careful than that. But in spite of the fact that this was a summer journey — the ship leaving London in September and sailing through the Southern Atlantic during its summertime — the ship passengers found it became colder as they approached the southern reaches of the Atlantic and the Antarctic continent. As a matter of fact, Lowe blames the chill on the Antarctic, as you will see:

1 Wednesday [December]. A foul wind from S.S.W., which must necessarily be cold, coming as it does so directly from the immense fields of ice in the Antarctic Ocean, and we have all day been kept constantly tacking. In the forenoon Staten Island was supposed to be seen on the lee bow, but it was eventually proved that that supposition must have been false.

Staten Island? This is a very interesting place, indeed, being part of the Argentinian province of Tierra Del Fuego, on the southern tip of the South American continent! For more information and some pretty interesting photos from National Geographic, see this post: http://www.expeditions.com/blog/argentinas-staten-island-reopens/ 

And the words, “lee bow,” refers to the direction from which the wind is not blowing. In this case, the wind is S.W, and so Lowe’s “lee bow” is to the east. Let’s continue with his journal.

2, Tuesday. This has been a miserable day’s work, as we were about as far advanced at the commencement, as at the end of the day, all the fore & afternoon we were becalmed, and what little wind there was towards evening proved contrary. Saw great numbers of Penguins in the water. In the evening there fell a drizzling rain which rather moderated the weather.

3, Friday. We had a stiff wind through the night from S.E. and continued running 9 Knots an hour for some time. In the evening we came in sight of Staten Island, passed the Straits of Le Maire [Le Maire Strait], and coasted Tierra del Fuego all day. However, we have not reached the dreaded Horn, but have had regular Cape weather lately, constant squalls and showers of sleet and snow, a rough Sea and fickle winds. As we passed this bleak & bare Coast, we saw its rugged mountains covered here and there with snow, although I am told this is the height of Summer…

4, Saturday. Had a coarse and squally night. At daybreak discovered a large vessel at a good distance on our lee quarter. At 10 a.m. she hoisted the British Ensign and by Telegraphic Signals wished us, “to bear down, or heave too, until she made up to us.”. . . It was the double-backed 46-gun Frigate “Dublin,” bound for Valparaiso, with Rear Admiral [Richard Darton] Thomas on board, who is to have command on the Pacific Station. . .

Well, there are all sorts of interesting stories here! Lowe’s so-called “Pacific Station” was the Royal Navy’s Pacific Station in South America, located at Valparaiso, Argentina. In 1843 Thomas had to sail out from Valparaiso to rein in a Captain George Paulet, of the HMS Carysfort, who sailed to Honolulu and demanded that the islands of the kingdom of Hawaii be signed over to him. Thomas arrived at Honolulu on July 31, 1843, to assure the Hawaiian King, Kamehameha III, that the occupation was finished and that there was no British claim over the islands. See this: http://military.wikia.org/Pacific_Station.

Thomas Lowe’s story continues: 

It is not an every day occurrence to speak [to] a frigate, and it is the first one I ever saw at Sea. Of course these vessels are made with a view to fast sailing, but it is a very discouraging thing to see any vessel go ahead of us, even although a Frigate. We have generally as yet outstripped the Vessels we have seen, and for a Merchant ship sail very well.

So the HBC’s ship, Vancouver, was a very good sailing ship, it seems. Lowe’s journal continues as the ship approaches Cape Horn.

Came in sight of Cape Horn at noon, and doubled it at 9 o’clock at night, just when it was getting dark. We sailed close to it, with a Fair wind and comparatively smooth sea, but could not discover the least signs of vegetation, and the crags partially covered with snow. It was certainly as dreary and uncomfortable looking a place as I have ever yet seen, or would ever wish to see. It is rather an unusual thing to get so easily round it outward bound, but we are no more than round it, and have yet plenty of spare time for the cold & boisterous weather which is usually met with, and in all probability will not escape without a hiding.

5, Sunday. When I stated yesterday that we did not suppose we should be able to weather Cape Horn without a drubbing, little did I suppose or hope that the supposition was so soon to be converted into reality, in fact, it would have been uncommon had we done so. During the night, we had a stiff Sou’Wester which was of course against us. It increased during the day to a severe gale, and we had to close-reef topsails, and furl every other stitch of canvas. All hands were summoned on deck. [We have] been losing ground since yesterday and we are now on the Atlantic side of the Horn again, although we were once round it. 

Annoying, to say the least! I would have stronger words to say if I were in that ship!

6, Monday. A very rough night, and the wind still strong ahead, obliging us as usual to tack incessantly. On one tack we went so close in shore that we got a very good sight of the land, and such an inhospitable looking country I scarcely conceived there could be. . . 

7, Tuesday. Passed the Islands of Diego Ramirez in the night time, or at least early this morning, and stood due S. all day at 6 Knots. Hazy weather and squally. Passed a school of Whales in the evening, some of which were close alongside. I happened to be in the Mizzen rigging when a very large one rose within 3 or 4 yards of the ship. They are what are called Finbacks, from the uncommon size of the Fin on the back. 

For information on the Diego Ramirez Island and Drake Passage, at Cape Horn, see this: http://lacgeo.com/cape-horn-diego-ramirez-islands-drake-passage

And for more on the Fin Whales he saw, see this: http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/fin-whale 

 Lowe’s journal continues:

8, Wednesday. The night was rough and the day has been no better. In the afternoon it blew a tremendous gale from the South West, with a heavy Sea, which nearly laid the Vancouver on her beam ends more than once. Here the Sun rises at present at 3 in the morning, and sets at 9 at night, the intermediate 6 hours being a twilight so bright that there is little difference between it and day. Caught an Albatross and made a good days run to the North West. 

9, Thursday. Running to the Northward but making very little progress, and will continue to do so as long as we are kept tacking and fighting against this abominable wind. 

10, Friday. On tacking this morning we could only fetch North. . . As we are obliged to lag as close as possible to the wind, the vessel heels over very much, and the strong head sea striking her on the weather bow causes her to toss about in a furious manner. Whenever I attempt to walk the deck, as I am often obliged to do to prevent myself from getting benumbed, I am sure to have a fall every 3 or 4 minutes, however I contrive to strut about in some way or other and the falls and bruises I get are a great assistance in heating me. I am speaking merely of myself, but every one else is in the same predicament — the Captain was knocked down behind the Companion ladder by a heavy sea that struck us amidships, and was so much stunned that he has lost entirely the use of his left ear, and some of the others are little better. Mr. Simpson lost hold of one of the pins [a part of the ship] to which he was clinging and was sent reeling from one side of the deck to the other. However, he received no serious injury.

11, Saturday. The breeze in the forenoon was moderate altho’ rather inclined to be squally, but in the beginning of the evening the sky to windward put on a wild like appearance, and we apprehended and but with too much reason that we were to have a rough night. Scarcely had we got the smaller sails in [and] double-reefed the top-sails when a gale arose from the W.S.W. which beat everything I have yet seen, making the Vancouver’s sides crack in rather a threatening manner. The Sea made a clean sweep of the deck fore & aft, but we sustained no damage, everything was snug. My bed is only 2 1/2 feet broad and one would think there could not be much spare room to roll about in it, but in spite of myself I was fairly turned over time after time, until I contrived to roll myself up like a hedgehog, and in this position had to pass the night. Of course, sleep was never to be thought of.

12, Sunday. It blows as strong as ever and the Sea has now attained a tremendous height, but the wind has rather altered its direction and is more favourable to us. We have been enabled to run our courses N.N.W free at 6 or 7 knots, but pitching and rolling as usual. The ship has a bare and uncomfortable looking appearance when she can only sail under reefed topsails. In the late gale, although she cracked & groaned in rather a doubtful manner, upon the whole she behaved admirably. Made a tolerable days run, but I will long remember our rounding the Horn. 

13 Monday. It blew strong throughout the night, but towards morning the wind fell and the Sea soon followed its example. “After a Storm comes a Calm.” All day the winds came in slight puffs from various directions, changing every now and then and seemingly doubtful where to settle, but after long consideration, supposing, I daresay, that we had had our share of bad winds, it was so kind towards evening as to blow at first gentle, however, from the East, and so directly was it in our favour that we were enabled to carry studding sails to it to windward. At last it came in fresh & steady, and settled right aft. The Sea has now nearly regained its placidity and we are sailing as smooth as if we had been in the Tropics. The necessary duty of walking the deck for exercise has also become a pleasant recreation, instead of a burdensome task as was frequently the case. A fire has been kindled in the Cabin today, to expel the dampness which has settled there, more than to warm us, for if this breeze continues for any length of time we will soon be out of reach of the cold and biting winds of Cape Horn. It is positively a shame to go to bed in a night like this, mild and clear as day, such a change has the Easterly wind affected and so totally different from the strong and chilling gales coming from the ice in the Frozen Region.

And so, young Thomas Lowe has, at last, sailed around Cape Horn, and found it an exciting business indeed. But fair winds will continue to lead him away to his future on the Pacific coast. The ship will reach the Hawaiian Islands on February 13, 1842: there is still two months travelling before he reaches Honolulu, where his life takes an unexpected turn. 

To return to the beginning of Thomas Lowe’s sailing journey from London, go here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/thomas-lowe-3/

When the next post is written, it will appear here: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/thomas-lowe-7/

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved. 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Thomas Lowe Rounds the Horn

  1. Hugh Stephens

    Interesting post. What a nightmare it was rounding the Horn under sail. Small point but Valparaiso, the HQ of the RN’s Pacific fleet before it was moved to Esquimalt in the 1860s, is in Chile, not Argentina.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes (sorry I took so long to get back to you). You are absolutely right about it being in Chile, and I should have just checked that fact. Fortunately for me, this is a blogpost and not a book that is going to be published, and my editor would have caught that mistake if I had not caught it previously.
      And, yes, as to nightmare, too. But the HBC ships did not seem to be as badly built as the immigrant ships which I have read about (altho’ I don’t know how they were below decks, of course).

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