Janet: The Captain’s Account


NEW BEDFORD, OCT 17-18,1849

Dreadful Suffering At Sea- We have received a letter from Capt. Hosmer, later master of the whaling barque Janet, of Westport, furnishing an account of privations and sufferings of a boat’s crew belonging to the Janet comprising the captain and five others, which is almost without parallel in the annals of the whale fishery. It is substantially as follows:

On the Coast of Peru, 23d June, 1849, in latitude 3 degrees N., longitude 104 W., while cruising for whales, a shoal of sperm whales appeared in sight from the Janet, and three boats lowered in pursuit. Cpt. Hosmer’s boat’s crew consisted of himself, Francis Hawkins, 3d mate; Edward H. Charlez, Joseph Cortez, Daniel Thompson, and Jas. Fairman, seamen. It blowing fresh at the time the boats soon separated each having made fast to a whale. After Capt. Hosmer had succeeded in “turning up” his whale and was towing him to the ship, from some inadvertence on the part of the 3d mate in putting about, the boat capsized, with loss of boat keg, lantern-keg, boat bucket, compass, paddles, &c. The crew succeeded in righting the boat, and lashed the oars to the thwarts across the boat to prevent her from overturning, she being filled with water, and the sea continually breaking over her.

Two waifs, or flags, were immediately set as a signal of distress, the other boats being in sight at a distance of about one and half miles. Capt. H. saw the other two boats take their whales alongside of the barque which was then kept off in the direction for his boat, but to his surprise and horror, when within about one mile of him they kept off on another course until sundown. The crew of the captain’s boat then got on to the whale alongside and tried to bail the boat, but could not succeed. They then cut the line attached to the whale, and succeeded in setting some pieces of boat-sail and steered towards the barque, then about three miles distant. During the night they saw a light at intervals but in the morning the barque was at about the same distance off. Every expedient was resorted to by making signals to attract the attention of those on board the barque, but in vain. Saw them cutting in the whales and apparently indifferent to the fate of their comrades. In this perilous condition the unfortunate boat’s crew made another attempt to bail the water from the boat, but owing to their consternation they did not succeed. They then continued on their course as before hoping to regain the barque, but soon found that she receded from them, and it was then determined to put about to the wind and remain, whatever the consequences might be. On the second morning, the weather being more favorable, all the whale craft was thrown overboard and another attempt was made to bail the boat, which resulted in the loss of one man and without accomplishing the purpose. The effort was again renewed in the afternoon, the weather being yet more favorable and they finally succeeded in freeing the boat from water, but with the loss of another of her crew – all on board having been up to their arms in the water during the last 48 hours. Two of the survivors were seized with delirium; all of them having been without a morsel of food or drink and suffering painful from thirst. Thus disabled, no one on board being able to ply at the oars, and with only a small fragment of the boat’s sail remaining, it was determined to make for Cocus Island, on the Peruvian coast, a distance of about one thousand miles, as the nearer land. Accordingly the piece of the sail was used to best advantage and the ceiling of the boat was torn up and also employed as a wind propeller, and steering in a northerly-easterly direction, Capt. H,. writes nothing occurred worthy of remark until the seventh day, the crew having in the meantime being without a particle of food or drink, and not a drop of rain having fallen. In this dreadful state of suffering it was mutually agreed to cast lots as to which of the number should be sacrificed to prolong the lives of his companions, and the unfortunate victim upon whom the lot fell met his fate with perfect resignation and willingness. At the close of the day a shower of rain proved a very great additional relief. Being without compass or instruments of any kind, Capt. H. was compelled to rely entirely upon his judgment respecting the course, aided only by an occasional glimpse of the North Star and the rolling swell of the sea from the South. On the eighth day, another of the number died from exhaustion. It was found necessary to pursue a more northerly course in the hope of rain, none having fallen during the last four days. On the next day were favored with another shower, and this benefaction was followed by the remarkable circumstance of a dolphin leaping from among its finny companions directly into the boat. Several birds also approached so near to the boat as to fall a prey to the necessities of the crew, administering greatly to their relief. On the 13th of July, land was discovered in an easterly direction, which proved to be Cocus island (uninhabited), lying in lat 5 degrees 27 min. N., lon.87.15. Capt H. and the other survivors succeeding in reaching it, but in an almost helpless condition. They however secured a pig and drank its blood, which revived their exhausted strength and also obtained a plentiful supply of birds and fresh water. After remaining two days upon the island they were overjoyed by witnessing the approach of a boat, which proved to belong to the ship Leonidas, whaler, Capt. Swift, of this port, then lying in Chatham Bay, for the purpose of procuring wood and water, and were relieved from their dreadful sufferings by being taken on board the ship and treated with every possible attention and kindness. The names of those who perished on board the boat, are Francis Hawkins, 3d mate of August, Me., James Fairman, seaman of Ohio; Henry Thompson, seaman, of Philadelphia, Pa., Edward Henry Charlez, place of residence unknown.

Capt. Hosmer renders his grateful acknowledgements to Capt. Swift, of the Leonidas, and also the Capt. Cleaveland, of barque Valparaiso, of this port, for their prompt and generous efforts in administering to the relief of himself and his companion, Capt. H. arrived at Payta, August 21st from which place his letter to us is dated.

We have also been favored with an extract of letter from James A. Crowell, late first mate of the Janet to Henry Wilcox, owners’ agent, in Westport, dated at Paytam Aug. 1st. Mr. Crowell after mentioning the fact of the three boats putting off for whales as above stated, adds: “At 3 P.M. I had my whale alongside and soon the ship came to me, and when I got on board there was but one boat in sight, and that was five miles to the leeward of the ship. I went down to it with the ship and found that it was the 2d mate’s boat. He had seen Capt. H. two hours previously fast to a whale and went to the leeward of him when last seen from his boat. We proceeded in the direction in which the captain’s boat had been last seen and lay too all night with all sails set, and with all our lights fixed. In the morning saw nothing of the boat. We cruised three days, but unfortunately without meeting any trace of here.