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Letters from High Latitudes   By: (1826-1902)

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Being some account of a voyage in 1856 of the schooner yacht "Foam" to Iceland, Jan Meyen, and Spitzbergen.

By the Marquess of Dufferin Sometime Governor General of the Dominion of Canada and afterwards Viceroy of India.



Glasgow, Monday, June 2, 1856.

Our start has not been prosperous. Yesterday evening, on passing Carlisle, a telegraphic message was put into my hand, announcing the fact of the "Foam" having been obliged to put into Holyhead, in consequence of the sudden illness of my Master. As the success of our expedition entirely depends on our getting off before the season is further advanced, you can understand how disagreeable it is to have received this check at its very outset. As yet, of course, I know nothing of the nature of the illness with which he has been seized. However, I have ordered the schooner to proceed at once to Oban, and I have sent back the Doctor to Holyhead to overhaul the sick man. It is rather early in the day for him to enter upon the exercise of his functions.



Greenock, Tuesday, June 3, 1856

I found the Icelander awaiting my arrival here, pacing up and down the coffee room like a Polar bear.

At first he was a little shy, and, not having yet had much opportunity of practising his English, it was some time before I could set him perfectly at his ease. He has something so frank and honest in his face and bearing, that I am certain he will turn out a pleasant companion. There being no hatred so intense as that which you feel towards a disagreeable shipmate, this assurance has relieved me of a great anxiety, and I already feel I shall hereafter reckon Sigurdr (pronounced Segurthur), the son of Jonas, among the number of my best friends.

As most educated English people firmly believe the Icelanders to be a "Squawmuck," blubber eating, seal skin clad race, I think it right to tell you that Sigurdr is apparelled in good broadcloth, and all the inconveniences of civilization, his costume culminating in the orthodox chimney pot of the nineteenth century. He is about twenty seven, very intelligent looking, and all women would think lovely to behold. A high forehead, straight, delicate features, dark blue eyes, auburn hair and beard, and the complexion of Lady S d! His early life was passed in Iceland; but he is now residing at Copenhagen as a law student. Through the introduction of a mutual friend, he has been induced to come with me, and do us the honours of his native land.

"O whar will I get a skeely skipper, To sail this gude ship o' mine?'

Such, alas! has been the burden of my song for these last four and twenty hours, as I have sat in the Tontine Tower, drinking the bad port wine, for, after spending a fortune in telegraphic messages to Holyhead, it has been decided that B cannot come on, and I have been forced to rig up a Glasgow merchant skipper into a jury sailing master.

Any such arrangement is, at the best, unsatisfactory, but to abandon the cruise is the only alternative. However, considering I had but a few hours to look about me, I have been more fortunate than might have been expected. I have had the luck to stumble on a young fellow, very highly recommended by the Captain of the Port. He returned just a fortnight ago from a trip to Australia, and having since married a wife, is naturally anxious not to lose this opportunity of going to sea again for a few months.

I start to morrow for Oban, via Inverary, which I wish to show to my Icelander. At Oban I join the schooner, and proceed to Stornaway, in the Hebrides, whither the undomestic Mr. Ebenezer Wyse (a descendant, probably, of some Westland Covenanter) is to follow me by the steamer.



Oban, June 5, 1856

I have seldom enjoyed anything so much as our journey yesterday. Getting clear at last of the smells, smoke, noise, and squalor of Greenock, to plunge into the very heart of the Highland hills, robed as they were in the sunshine of a beautiful summer day, was enough to make one beside oneself with delight, and the Icelander enjoyed it as much as I did... Continue reading book >>

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