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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 2
This webpage reproduces part of
Angry Island

by Margaret Mackay

published by Rand McNally & Company,
Chicago • New York • San Francisco

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part II
Chapter 4

Part Two
Sail and Whale

 p60  3 Adventures and Misadventures

The presence of new arrivals, not all in sympathy with the early utopian ideal of industrious equality, led to the framing of a new constitution for the colonists. Before the Blenden Hall company left, it was signed and witnessed by the cowardly Quartermaster Gormby — the life of the party again, now that he was safe.

It stipulated that the whole of the land, stock, etc., was the joint property of William Glass and John Nankivel, the two founders. The others must pay them rent for the use and wear of equipment. But the  p61 produce of the land would be divided equally among all, 'as long as the people continue to work at the same'. Glass, being the head of the firm, was to 'allot to each individual every evening his work for the following day, not by way of task but merely for the purpose of causing all to do their best for the general good'. The American seaman, Fotheringham, was to be in charge of the boats and crews, with his compatriot, Turnbull, as deputy.

At Cape Town, the captain of a small schooner, the Jane, heard from some of the Blenden Hall people that plenty of sea‑elephant oil was to be got at Tristan. He came to investigate. Glass had been longing for an assured contact with the nearest ports, at the Cape and St Helena. So he took passage in the Jane to Cape Town in May, 1822, and signed a document agreeing to buy the schooner for £700, to be paid by the first cargoes shipped in her to the Cape.

On his return Glass was disconcerted to find that out of a population of eighteen, many of the male inhabitants had left in the sealer King George, attracted by high wages. One who had gone was John Nankivel. This left Glass himself as the only original colonist.

Nevertheless, as soon as the Jane arrived at Tristan an island crew took her over, captained by Fotheringham. They promptly loaded her with another cargo of sea‑elephant oil for the Cape. But it was difficult to keep a vessel anchored regularly off harbourless Tristan. She soon became damaged by the battering of the heavy ground swell.

Further, the produce was disappointing. On Inaccessible, rival sealing crews maliciously carried off the Tristanians' cache of blocks and ropes — salvaged from the Blenden Hall — and burned the beds in the hut which the islanders had built. They also, wrote Glass in apologizing to his creditors, were 'not content with killing what they got off but killed and left to spoil vast quantities merely to prevent our taking them'.

The Jane managed to make two trading voyages to the Cape. But on the third, in 1823, less than a year after her purchase, she was lost through carelessness in Table Bay, not far from Cape Town. The crew got ashore safely, but none ever returned to Tristan da Cunha.

This was the costly end of Glass's dream of a regular link with the outside world.

There were only six adults left on the island: William and Maria (now called Mary) Glass, Stephen and Peggy White, 'Old Dick' Riley and Alexander Taylor Cotton.

The hamlet was at the mercy of a gang of runaways who landed in March, 1823, from the Berwick, bound from London to Van Diemen's  p62 Land (Tasmania). They harassed the inhabitants, helped themselves to property and produce, and mocked at work. Luckily another vessel called and Glass was able to get them taken off.

In the spring a sickness spread among the colonists. A British vessel was sighted far out at sea. The depleted crew launched a boat, and after a long struggle with the waves, they intercepted her. They asked the captain for some medicines.

'How am I to be paid?' was his first question.

There was no money on Tristan.

Reluctantly he produced a small bottle of Epsom salts, but he would not hand it over until Glass had signed a receipt. No one offered the boatmen even a crumb of food or a drop of drink, though they had many miles of hard pull back to land.

A tragic figure named Smith haunted the island for some months in 1824. Once he had been a successful captain of a large sealing vessel in the South Sea Fishery. Now he was engaged as fourth mate in a vessel of which he had once been master, touching at Tristan, where Glass often saw him.

The captain placed him in charge of a makeshift shallop of fifteen tons, put together in South Georgia, to hunt sea‑elephants. His tiny craft lost contact with the mother ship, and he had to make a long stormy voyage to Tristan, almost without food. Exhausted, battered and starving, he secured her as best he could, left her to her fate, and feebly rowed ashore with his companions.

Soon afterward the mother ship turned up. The captain put a fresh crew on the shallop. Smith was so shattered by his own apparent abandonment of his charge that he fled into the bush and did not reappear until ship and shallop had sailed.

Distracted, his mind gave way. Sometimes like a suffering ghost, he crept up to the cottages for food, and then skulked off again into hiding. Presently he was missing for two months.

At length his decomposed body was found among the scrub. It was buried on the spot, with all the islanders standing by, neat and reverent.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20