by G. F. Buttenshaw
20th One of us killed a penguin this morning and he wondered what it was but we soon told him when he bought it to the camp. This one appeared to be pioneer as after this they continued to come in thousands until all the rocky part of the island was covered with them. They were the most useful of any birds we have had and we killed many thousands of them for the skins and fat. The skins were used for shoes – our own being long worn out on the sharp rocks; for legging in helping to protect our legs from the bites of the penguins (as) they are not afraid of us but fly at our legs; for caps and clothing; doors for the camps (there being six different camps now); and of the greatest use, for fuel – the fat is used for frying and for the lamps. Our food now consist(s) of Mollyhawks, Mutton birds – these birds are small black ones and taste something like mutton. We have to dig for them. We cannot catch the old ones but the young ones are so sweet that it is a treat to get them. The other kinds are Graybacks and Whale birds. The Whale birds are about the size of a lark. We catch very few of the Grayback because the(y) have almost deserted the island. They have had such a fright that as soon as they see us they are off. They always sit now on the edge of the cliffs so that they can drop in the water. We still keep a look out for ships.
October. The penguins are preparing their nest so that we soon expect some more eggs.
13th The penguins have begun to lay but their eggs do not taste so nice as the Mollyhawks. They lay three eggs, the first about size of an egg of our chicken the others about twice that size. We collected many thousands of them but could not gather a 20th part before they had been sat upon. We buried large quantities of them in the ground for future use.
23rd Another of our number died this morning – his hands had begun to mortify from frost bites. He was the eldest seaman we had. Very cold, but the days are getting longer.
25th W. Husband, seaman that died on the 23rd was buried this day. We held service over him. It is very sad to see us going one by one like this. When one dies, the strongest party takes all his clothes no matter how much others are in need of some which I think a great shame. Some of the seaman think and say that the passengers have no right to anything.
November. At the beginning of this month the penguins that had arrived in September having been without food all this time being very thin and poor are now leaving the island for food – those sitting on eggs being relieved by a fresh lot almost as numerous as at first. They are not so fat however. They began to come on the 10th of this month. Still keeping a lookout for ships.
20th Albatross are now landing again to breed. After killing about twenty of them for their wing bones to make clubs and their entrails for holding fat, all the camps entered into an agreement not to kill any more or take their eggs but to let them breed and bring out their young so that we might have both young and old to eat during the winter. There are now seven camps on the island.
24th The penguins are now hatching their young. All of us seen (sic seem) to be in pretty good health but some show signs of going out of their mind. It is now getting on in the summer but it still keeps very cold and plenty of snow and foggy weather.
9 December. Sighted another ship to the Northward of the island it was very thick foggy weather this morning but about one o’clock the fog lifted and the ship was seen very close in so close that we believe if the fog had not lifted as it did she would have struck on a reef. She was barque-rigged and we could see the man at the wheel and the fore and aft stays. We hoisted our blankets as usual but they took no notice of us.
As the Mollyhawks are now very shy it takes too much time to catch them. We are therefore living principally on old and young penguins – the former somewhat resembles bull beef, the latter taste’s rather fishy. As yet the old one’s are now constantly going to and from the sea with food for their young, they bring up large quantities in their stomach consisting principally of shrimps. This they vomit up again – the young ones eating out of their mouths until they can scarcely stand.
24th Albatross are now laying their eggs (which) are very large – enough for a meal for one man. There is now about two hundred albatross on the island. Now it is a pretty sight to see so much food before us. We are still waiting for a ship to take us from the island before Christmas day is over.
Christmas Day 1875. This is the middle of summer here but it is as cold as Christmas day at home. I, with some others are building another hut – it blows very cold with snow squalls. We have a very poor festive board but I think we all went to the spring and wished for a better one next year. Another of our number died to day – W. Walker 3 years of age. We all thought the poor little chap would go of(f) the island if the rest did after going through all he did.
26th The poor little boy W. Walker was buried today. We had nothing to dig a grave with – the others had been dug with a wooden spade made from the blade of an oar but that was broken now. One of the sailors dug a small grave with his hands. Service was held over his grave.
29th The members of camp called Tommy’s shanty in which lived J Allan 3rd Mate, D Wilson , Steward, T Standring, R Wilson, J Crombie and F Bentley, Passengers started building a large block of turf they having proposed it some time before but meeting without any encouragement but bringing down the ridicule of those who ought to have been the first to help in such a thing, determined to build it themselves.
1st January 1876. New Years Day. Plenty to eat but not very palatable. Nasty damp cold weather. We have been here now six months.
3rd When the above camp had built the block about five feet high and nine feet square, all hands saw the wisdom of the affair. The news went round the island to be up next morning at day break to continue the building. We keep a look out for ships from daylight until dark which is from about three in the morning until nine at night.
10th We did some building to day on the block made it about eight feet high and eleven feet square. It takes an awful lot of turf.
14th About four o’clock this morning the look out sung out Sail-O! We turned out to have a look at her – she was quite close, steering to the Eastward. We signaled, but she continued her course. This makes the fourth ship we have seen – three must have seen us or have been blind!
18th Shifted the flag staff on the East end of the island about ten yards further to the Northward – more on the bow of the hill.
19th All hands except the cooks of the different camps were at work on the tower today. On leaving for the day it was about sixteen feet high and fourteen by sixteen at the base.
January 22nd Friday afternoon about five o’clock the cry went sound Sail-Oh! but we were afraid (it was) too far off to see us. We nevertheless got out signals flying and made two large fires of grass and fat when all at once we saw the ship’s head turned towards the Island. What cry of joy went over the island. We were more like mad people than anything else. The name of the ship was the “Young Phonix (sic Phoenix)” – Captain Giffard of New Bedford, an American Whaler. The season of whale fishing, coming on at this time of the year and lasting three months. The Captain himself being up in the crows nest looking for whale’s (noticed) our tower we had built (and) struck him as something new and strange. He called to his First Officer to get the long-glass and see what he could make of it when he, by the aid of the glass, could distinguish men flying signals of distress. The Captain then at once put the ship head towards the island and when close enough, had two boats lowered and came in one himself to the island but could not land, so one of our number swam to one of the boats and guided them to where we landed. But it coming on dark, the Captain decided to take only the Lady and five others that night but he sent us one bag of meat and another of biscuit which we were thankful for. One of the men gave us a piece of Tobacco. We did not sleep much that night and at the first slimmer of daylight we were on top of the hill to see if the ship was in sight but we could not see her. But we soon saw her on the horizon coming towards the island. We embarked about ten am on Saturday morning. The Captain had a copper full of fresh water made hot for us to wash with and then gave us a clean shift of clothes, what was left of our own being thrown over board. The Captain decided to land us at the first port he could make.
24th The Captain gave us some tobacco and all hands treat us very kindly.
26th Captain Giffard saw a ship steering to the Eastward and thinking she was bound to New Zealand or Australia he hailed her and she proved to be the “Sierra Morena” of Liverpool from Sunderland bound to India. He boarded her and theCaptain, his name Kenedy (sic Kennedy) offered to take twenty of us. He could not take more of us for fear he ran short of water so twenty of us went with him myself among the number. The others were to be transferred to another ship so that the Whaler could go back to the island to finish his season’s fishing. Captain Kenedy, Officers, and crew were very kind to us, providing us with tobacco and plenty of food. They made a subscription of ten shilling each which was spent in clothes for us, the Board of Trade giving us nothing.
January 24th Capt Kenedy landed us a Point de Galle in Celony and handed us over to the Board of Trade authorities who sent us to an hotel.
25th We were examined by the controled (sic controller) of customs relative to the loss of the ship.
Sunday 26th We all went to church to offer our thanks for deliverance and heard a nice sermon on the goodness of god.
27th The agent of the ship made a subscription of old clothes for us and we all got a suit of old clothes and four shillings. The Board of Trade authorities are trying to make us work our passage home for 1 shilling a month but it does not suit us. We are distressed British seamen and are not able to do an hour’s hard work so we let them know we would not work for them so they sent us home at once when we let them know that we would not work.
March 3rd We were sent on board the Mail steamer “Australia” bound for Southampton where we landed on April 3rd.
April 4th We all went to the agent of the Fisherman’s society who gave us a ticket to take us to our respective homes.
Since coming home, I have seen by the papers that the second ship that passed us so close, some of the passengers of her saw our signals and reported it to the officers but they would not take any notice of us and they did not report it when they arrived at their destination. Why we left of(f) our service’s of prayers and hymns was some of the seamen would swear almost in the middle of them so we thought it best to have it in secret as it was only mocking.
I myself think we should always be able to get enough food to keep life in us by diggin(g) while we had fire of course. We only had our hands to dig with and I am afraid many would have got out of their minds if we had sto(p)ped much longer, but the food we should have got would only have kept bare life in us while we could forage for it. The strongest did as they liked. If they wanted anything anybody else had, they would take it if (the other person was) weaker than themselves.
If we went to one end of the island and looked down about two thousand feet we could see on a very calm day the forecastle of the ship.
Just before Christmas we thought we ought to prepare for winter which happens there when summer does here, so having plenty of penguins we set to work to store away a lot of fat so that if the worst came we could eat grass and fat. We also stowed away skins for the fire. When we left the island we had about twenty thousand skins put away and about two hundred gallons of fat and oil but thanks be to God (?sending) the penguins there. The penguins stay on land about six months during the year.
As our tins for boiling were getting useless we found a lot of hollow stones which we used for boiling, frying pans and for melting fat in. When we left the island, crosses were put at the head of each grave and a bottle of instructions for any other’s that might be cast on the island.
After one of those that died had been buried about two months, his grave was opened and we were surprised to find a perfect corpse. The earth seemed to preserve the body’s. The earth is guano.
While we had plenty of eggs we used the yolks of them to wash our clothes and body’s. It was almost as good as soap. When we had no eggs we used blood but it was not half as good for cleaning.
If we wanted a smoke we would dry some of the grass roots and smoke that for tobacco I think this is all I can say.
G. F. Buttenshaw
Editorial Note: George Frederick Buttenshaw was born Hastings, Sussex in 1851, the youngest son of George Buttenshaw from nearby Pett and his wife Eliza nee Alcorn from Rotherfield, Sussex. George Frederick’s father died when he was only 4 years of age and his mother, Eliza, when he was only 10.
G F Buttenshaw was only 24 years of age when he served as Chief Steward on the “Strathmore”. He subsequently married in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia on the 12th August 1878 to Mary Ryan and shortly after, moved to Sydney where their eldest daughter, Mary Catherine was born in 1879.
G F Buttenshaw must therefore have traveled to Australia sometime in the 2 years intervening after his rescue from the shipwreck and arrival in the UK in April 1876 and his marriage in 1878.
The original hand-written copy of the above account passed to his youngest daughter, Georgina (known as Ena) and thence to her daughter, now Mrs Kath Armstrong of Bulli, NSW.
G F Buttenshaw’s father, George, was a cousin of my g-g-grandfather, James Buttenshaw snr. They grew up together in Hastings where James was also born and whose parents had both died by the time he was only 5 years of age.
Alan J Buttenshaw
Buttenshaw Family Researcher
From “Rye’s Own “ November 2005
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