1778 – A voyage to California: Jean-Dominique Cassini

A voyage to California: to observe the transit of Venus By Jean Chappe d’Auteroche (abbé), Jean-Dominique Cassini, José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez. 1778

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We had steered toward the Red-hat till noon, the winds not permitting us to bear more to the west, and after taking the elevation of it, we were actually going to tack about, to get more sea room, when when the wind shifted by degrees, and we made towards the island of Saint Pierre, which we discovered at six. Our first: intention was not to anchor there that day, but considering how seldom we could expect such clear weather as we then enjoyed, we directed our course straight to it. About eight o’clock, judging we were very near land, we fired a gun for a pilot; we were answered.

We fired repeatedly to shew our impatience, nor was it ill grounded. The wind was slackening more and more, night was coming on, and the weather seemed to threaten a fog for the next day. Our signals were indeed answered, but the wished-for pilot did not appear. We could plainly see the light of the guns that answered us, and by the interval between the light and the found, we estimated the distance of the island and found sound to our sorrow that ‘we were farther from it than we had imagined. To complete our misfortune, a calm came on, and for some hours we were afraid of being driven ashore by the currents; but the wind soon rose. Seeing no pilot come, we kept aloof, firing a gun every half hour, and each time we were answered by two. Never did a night appear so long ; the weather was overcast, and foretold an approaching fog. At three we begun to suspect land, and about five we plainly distinguished the island of Saint Pierre, and particularly another little adjacent island, called the Pigeon-house, O which lies at the entrance of the road. Having attained to this certainty, we tacked about, and failed before the wind, steering for the Pigeon-house; we were still near five leagues off, and the fog was coming on. We spied a little boat making towards us; at first we were in doubt whether we had best wait for it, but finding we lost sight of the land more and more, we determined to lay by, in case it should be the pilot. We were not disappointed; it was the captain of the harbour of Saint Pierre, who had been rowing about the island all night, unable to find us. He leaped on board; and was so perfectly acquainted with the place, that he did not mind losing sight of the land, and in a short time brought us safe to the entrance of the road. We had scarcely reached it, when the wind failed at once, and sell to a dead calm, so that we were obliged to anchor before the road of Saint Pierre, and then to tow the ship to the right anchorage. This laborious operation took us up from six in the morning till the next day July 26.

Thus after forty-two days sailing we concluded what may be called a pretty good passage, sometimes indeed obstructed by the fogs and winds, but this was no more than what we were to expect at that time of the year. We had met with no accident, no squalls nor storms, and had almost always a fine smooth sea. We were no sooner come to an anchor at the entrance of the road of Saint Pierre, but a prodigious thick fog robbed us of the fight of the land that surrounded us, and this for two days together. Indeed one must have been six weeks at sea, to lament being deprived of such a prospect as the barren coasts of this road affords, and in general the whole island of Saint Pierre; but for seamen tired with the uniform spectacle of the sea, the most hideous rocks have their charms; I was …

Note **. Only on the 2d and 5th of July, when we met with a very rough sea.

… therefore heartily glad to get on shore, The very next day after our arrival, I skipped into a canoe with Mr. Tronjoly and some officers, and we made for the coast, through the mist. Long before we reached the shore, an offensive smell made us sensible what we were to expect, The stench increased as we drew nearer, and was at the height, when we landed near a kind of wooden house, which projects into the sea, and is built upon piles. As our first business was to wait on the governor, we postponed our inquiries about this building and its use to another opportunity, We made the best of our way to the governor’s house, through a field covered with nothing but white pebbles or flat stones, overspread with an innumerable multitude of cod. Mr. Dangeac, governor of the Island, came to meet us with his family. They welcomed us with such politeness, and during our stay there, were so attentive and obliging, that we were soon convinced that the delights of an agreeable society will compensate for the hardships of the worst of climates.

Mr. Dangeac was no sooner apprized of the object of my mission, but he made it his whole study to procure me all necessary conveniencies for my operations. I was loaded with his favours, and the manner of conferring them doubled the obligation. He compelled me to accept of the house, and even of the apartment where his sons lived. Accordingly I fixed my abode on the shore, with Mess Leroy and Wallot; and the apparatus was set up, to be in readiness for the first moment of fair weather. I was so prepossessed that the sight of the sun was an uncommon phænomenon in these parts, that I was almost discouraged ; but happily for us, that that was not the cafe while we remained on the island, for in ten days I had four which were fit for observations.

I spent the intervals between my astronomical observations, in surveying the island, and enquiring into the nature of the place, its inhabitants and trade.

The islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon are the only settlements the French possess at present in this northern part of America, which includes Newfoundland and the coast of Canada.

Saint Pierre is a very small island; its utmost length may be two leagues. Miquelon is somewhat larger, and may be about five leagues long. S. Pierre however is the chief place of the colony; the safety of its harbour draws a greater number of ships, and probably for this single reason, the governor has fixed his residence there ‘* ; for I am told Miquelon is a much pleasanter spot. They talk much of a sine plain, a kind of meadow, a league long, which makes a very pleasant walk. You have no such thing at Saint Pierre, where all is barren mountains, or rather craggy rocks, here and there covered with dry moss, and other weeds, the sad produce of a stony soil. I sometimes penetrated far into the island to acquaint myself with the .place, and examine its productions; all I found was mountains, not to be scaled without danger ; the little …

Note: The fishing vessels are very safe in a pretty large Barachois, which answers the purpose of a harbour. What they call here Barachois, is a little pool near the sea, and only separated from it by a bank of pebbles. The road of Saint Pierre is a tolerable shelter for ships of burden, but care must be taken to examine the cables very often, otherwise they will soon be damaged by the stony bottom.

… vallies between them are no better ; some are full of water, and form so many lakes; others are encumbered with little sorry fir trees, and some few birch, the only trees that grow in this country, so far as I could find, nor did I fee a single tree more than twelve feet high in all that part of the island where I went. The island of Miquelon is a little better stored with wood.

The most common plant I met with at Saint Pierre, is a kind of tea; (at least the inhabitants call it so) its leaf is woolly underneath, and it greatly resembles our rosemary, both in the leaf and stalk. There is another plant they call annise; I have tasted both, infused in boiling water, and think the annise is the pleasanter of the two.

Hence it appears how destitute the inhabitants must be of the necessaries of life, ship finds means to convey a few head of oxen or other cattle, it is by eluding the vigilance of a number of vessels of their own nation, stationed there merely to prevent this contraband trade. Our arrival at Saint Pierre was celebrated by the death of a bullock; this was the noblest reception they could bestow.

From this account, one would be apt to conclude, that the island of Saint Pierre could only be considered as a shelter for fishermen driven thither by stress of weather, yet we have made a settlement there. The islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon were ceded to France by the English on the following conditions:  » that no forts should be built on either; that no more than fifty men of regular troops should be kept there, dispersed on both islands; and that they should have no military stores, or cannon, capable of making a defence. » Accordingly, they are allowed but five or six small pieces of cannon, which are rolled to the water-side without carriages, and are only used for signals to the ships that want to come in. France, at the taking possession of these islands, appointed a governor. Such of the Canadians as did not chose to become British were permitted to go and settle there; many went at first, but the difficulty of subsisting in such a barren country, soon determined them to quit it; the greatest part desired leave to remove to France ; it was granted, but they were no sooner there, than they regretted the island of Saint Pierre and wanted to go back. A cargo of near three hundred arrived there just before us. Their unexpected return put the colony in some confusion; those who were left behind had seized upon the habitations which the others had forsaken; they had pulled down some of the wooden houses, and made use of the materials. The new comers were sent to Miquelon, which, with this addition, may contain five or six hundred inhabitants ; Saint Pierre about half as many.

I observed above, speaking of the Newfoundland fishery, that towards the latter end of June, the capelan flocked from the main to deposit their eggs along the coast of that and the adjacent islands ; and that then all the cod about the Great Bank came in shoals to these coasts: this is the critical time for the fishermen of Saint Pierre. The island is adjoining to a sand bank where the cod comes in great plenty. Whatever is caught there, is brought to Saint Pierre, where it is cured and dried. This is what is fold in France by the name of morueseche, or more properly merluche. Merluche or moruefraiche is therefore one and the fame fish, only cured in a different manner.

Some ships likewise bring the sisti they have caught at the Great Bank, to dry at Saint Pierre, but these are few; most of the cod that is fished at the Bank* is brought home to Europe, and fold for mome verte, or barrel cod. Immense labour and care are requisite for this operation of salting and drying the codj though but an ordinary dish at last.

The cod intended for drying, is caught and beheaded in the fame manner as the other, but it is cut up differently *. The slicer, instead of cutting the bones along the vertebræ only half way down from the throat to the anus, lays open the fish at one stroke, quite to the tail, all along the vertebræ, which he divides up to the throat, leaving each half of these vertebræ.

When the slicer has thus dispatched a fish, he drops it into a sledge that holds about half a hundred weight; a boy then drives the fledge to the place where the salter salts and spreads the fish of the day.

The salter lays down the fish flat with the flesh uppermost, and placing several of them side by side, he forms a layer of six, eight, twelve, or fifteen feet long, and three, four, or five broad; then he takes a great wooden shovel, about two feet square, and sprinkles salt all over the layer of cod. Care must be taken that this salt be laid on very even. When this layer is sufficiently salted, he spreads another over it, salts it in the same manner, and so on.

When there are large, middling, and small cod, they are kept apart, for a different depth of salt is requisite for different sizes. Too much salt burns up the fish, and makes it brittle when it comes to dry> and too little makes it greasy, and difficult to dry.

The cod is left in salt two days at least, and sometimes above a fortnight; then it is washed. For this purpose they load it on hand barrows* and empty it out into a laver not unlike a great cage, by the sea-side; there they stir it about in seawater with paddles, to cleanse it from the salt and slime that it is daubed with, and when it is washed white, they put it again on the barrows, and carry it upon the gravel where it is to be spread. They first pile it up five or six feet high; the top of the heap terminates like a roof, mat the fish may drain and harden.

Two, three, or four days after, as the weather permits, they undo the pile, and spread the fish upon the gravel one by one in rows, with the flesh uppermost. When it has lain thus in the morning sun, they turn it about two in the afternoon, the skin uppermost, and in the evening if they find that the wind and sun have dried them enough, they lay five or six of them one upon another, and a large one at top, to shelter them from the rain. The cod being thus disposed in little heaps, the skin upwards, they wait for the first fine day to spread them again on the gravel, first with the skin uppermost, and at noon they turn them, and when they have been thus exposed a second time to the rays of the sun, they are again heaped up, fifteen or twenty in a heap, and left till the next fine day, when they once more spread them upon the gravel. If after this they find the’ fish thoroughly dry, they place the small ones in round sharp piles like pigeon – houses, the middle sized in heaps of a hundred weight, and the large ones in smaller parcels. The former, when they have undergone a fourth sunning, that is, when they have been spread upon the gravel for the fourth time, are laid up in round piles; as to the larger ones, they must be spread in the sun five or six times at least, before one can venture to pile them up like the others. When they have stood so for three or four days, they spread them all at once upon the gravel in the sun, and then proceed to a new pile, laying the largest fish for the ground-work, the middle sized next, and the smallest at top ; because the larger they are, the greater pressure they require, to squeeze out and throw off their moisture. This pile is left standing for a fortnight, and then the cod is again spread in the sun, after which the pile is erected once more, but reversed, so that what was at the bottom is now put at the top.

This pile may be let alone for a month, after which time the fish is once more exposed to the sun, and then piled up for the last time.
When all this is done, they make choice of a fine day to spread out these fishes, only an arm full at a time, and lay them on the gravel: they examine them one by one, and lay apart those that still retain some moisture; the dry ones are piled up, and the moist ones are dried again in the sun, and then put on the tcp of the other piles, that they may be at hand to be looked after, and dried again if they should want it. To conclude, the whole process, just before they are shipped, they spread them by arms full upon the gravel, to air and dry them thoroughly.

In order to ship this cod, they clean out the hold, and lay a kind of floor, either pf stone or wood, on which they place the fist), the first layer with the flesh uppermost, and all the rest with the skin uppermost. They don’t sill the hold from one end to the other, without interruption, but raise several piles, both to keep the good and bad apart, and likewise to distinguish the different sizes of the fisti. The large ones make the groundwork of the cargo, the middle sized come next, and the small ones are laid at top. They line the bottom and sides of the hold with small twigs with their leaves on, but dried first for several days. The cod being thus laid up in the hold, they cover it with sails, and never meddle with it more till they unload it for sale in Europe,

For these particulars about the curing of cod in the Island of St. Pierre, I am beholden to M. de R**, lieutenant of a frigate, who is perfectly acquainted with these matters, having been for a longtime employed in that business on the island.

Slitting, salting, and drying the cod, are three distinct operations, the last of which, is sometimes very tedious and difficult. The sun is seldom seen at Saint Pierre, and the want of sunshine is the lots of thousands of cod, which rot in the damps and fogs.

On the right hand of the harbor or road, is a house built upon piles in the sea.; it is made of boards, and the roof off long poles interwoven ; half this roof is covered with turf from one end to the other, and the remaining half is left open : they call this house a chafaud. This is the place where they flit and salt the cod. The floor consists of long poles, placed so as to let the intestines of the fish, drop down between them, into the sea. Half the roof is left open to let in the rain and fresh air, which carry off part of the nastiness and stench of the place,

The fishing boats that are commonly employed in catching cod about the island, and bringing it to this ciqsaud, are small craft, with a square sail. The crew never exceeds two men, commonly attended by a dog, their faithful servant and companion. From their boat they shoot goelands and other sea-birds, with which they make their soup. The dog swims and fetches the bird, without any interruption to his master’s fishery.
The most common birds on the coasts of Saint Pierre and Newfoundland are the madre^ the gode, and the calculo. The eggs of the madre are white speckled with black; those of the gode are greenish speckled with black, and those of the calcuco cakuk are brown with darker , spots, These eggs are larger than hen eggs, and yet the birds are not much bigger than pigeons.

Behind the chafaud, appear the masts of (hipping; these shew the situation of the barachois, where the fishing smacks are sheltered. This baracbois is large, and tolerably fenced from the winds. It reaches to the walls of the governor’s house, and may be about three hundred furlongs wide in the broadest part. It measures four fathom water till within twenty-five or thirty furlongs of’ the more; however, it has some shallows where there is not above eight feet water, which must be carefully attended to* At low water you have not above five or fix feet water over the bar that parts the barachois from the road. In peap tides ycu have nine or ten feet, but t in in high tides, it rises to fourteen feet. The tides are very irregular at Saint Pierre, from the variety of winds, and the different degrees of their vehemence; however, the spring tides are commonly at the new and full moon about eight o clock.

In going into the road of Saint Pierre by the eastern pass, you must beware of two dangerous rocks, called the blackrock and bafflejaune, the first situated east, the other east-south-east of the point of the isle of Dogs, at about ^ of a league distance: but they are only dangerous by night or in a fog; by day light you can plainly fee the black-rock above water, and almost always the waves dashing over the bajfe jaunt;
The great road begins at the little rock Saint Pierre; a ship may safely sail on either side ps this rock, and will find anchorage in any part of the road within thirty fathom of the more; but lest a fide wind should rife, they commonly allow more room, and anchor at one third distance from the .coast of Saint Pierre, and two thirds from that of the isle of Dogs. As to the south-east pass, where merchantmen commonly go in and out, it is much more difficult than the other, and is hardly practicable but for ships of two or three hundred tons burden at most. There would be depth enough at high ‘water for frigates, but the pass is very narrow, as is likewise the channel that leads to the good anchorage, ‘ The pilot must be cautious of the rocks that lye near the barachois, some points of which advance under water Into the channel, but may be avoided by steering nearer the shore of the isle of Dogs than that of Saint Pierre; he must likewise be careful to keep clear of the isle of Massacre, and of the innermost point of the isle of Dogs, where a ship might strike if she was to come too near.

The duke de Prastin’s (Praslin?) intention was that we should make no longer stay at Saint Pierre than was requisite for the verifying of the time-keepers. The weather proved so favorable, that in a week’s time, I had a sufficient number of observations to answer my purpose. I soon informed Mr. Tronjoly that I had no farther need to detain him there. This news was received by every one with as – much pleasure as I felt in imparting it. We were all heartily sick of this horrid country, and the expectation of that delightful climate we were going to, made us long to get there. I shall now briefly give the result of the observations I made in this first station towards verifying the time-keepers.

Before we got to the island of S. Pierre I had some suspicion that one of the clocks was a little out of order. The observations I made when ashore, plainly shewed, that which I called the second (from the date of its construction) had actually undergone some variation in our passage. I thought it must be owing to the damps and fogs we had been exposed to, at the very time when I first perceived that the clocks did not agree. Mr. Le Roy asked my leave to open the clock, that he might the better find out the cause of this disorder, which he was of opinion, must proceed from some friction, which was discernible by the ear, in the pieces of the machine. At first I would not consent, but fearing lest my refusal should deprive Mr. Le Roy of the surest means of discovering the defects of his work, and amending what might be amiss, I consented to the opening of the clock, which was done in the presence of Mr. Tronjoly, Mr. Wallot and myself. Mr. Le Roy stopped the movement, examined it a while, and found nothing apparently amiss; then, without touching it with any instrument but his fingers, he restored it to the same state with regard to the other clocks, that it was in before he stopped it. Mr. Le Roy gave me in writing the demand he had made of my consent to open and examine his time keeper, and I drew up a verbal process of the whole transaction.

The disagreeable impression this disorder of one clock had made upon my mind, was soon removed by observing the perfection of the other; not the least alteration had happened, and with regard to the mean motion it was, within a few tierces, the same as at Havre de Grace. This is very surprising after sixty days trial, and in such fogs as we had been exposed to.

Note: The verification I made on the island of Saint Pierre was not indeed absolutely compleat,

We set fail the 3rd of August, and got out of the road of S. Pierre at seven in the morning with a clear sky; there had been a fog the day before, and that was the last we had to encounter. A fair wind soon carried us beyond the Bank of Newfoundland; we lost the soundings August 9, to enter upon a finer climate* Clear weather, fair winds, a fine sea; such in few words is the history of out run from the island of Saint Pierre to Sallee, and makes any farther account needless. The melancholy inspired by the fogs and contrary winds in our former passage, was now exchanged for joy and hope, the effect of fair weather and favorable winds.

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