VII. The Bounty Islands.
A fearful stench pervaded my cabin when I awoke. I dreamed of it before I awoke—indeed, it was that and nothing else that awakened me. I have slept in strange places and amid a thousand strange smells, but never did I endure anything so sickening as this. I knew my room was full of fearful things, and visions of broken albatros-eggs haunted my
shattered senses, though my almost hermetically-closed box looked all right. I rushed out to the bath half awake. The galleries smelt as my room did. The bathroom was just as bad. Then I remembered the faint odours of the Snares (which, by the way, we had smelt a mile across the sea), and I knew what had happened: we were steaming among the bird islands. The Bountieś are sixteen rocky islets, running up to a few hundred feet at the highest. They have no soil upon them. Wherever there is room there sits a crested penguin. The largest islet is 30 acres in extent, and under the lee of this we anchored. From the anchorage we could sea half the islands; but the nearest one to us carried no birds, as the sea can wash over it. Even at the distance of half a mile the noise of the birds was deafening. It rose and fell with a cadence like that observable in the forests of Australia when the locusts or cigale are numerous, or near marshes where frogs abound. I wanted to land, and as boats were sent ashore two of us ventured in them. We found the rocks too steep to get up any distance, so we gave it up. The steward and the carpenter went up a short way. Here the stench was simply awful. We watched the penguins swarming over the rocks for awhile. The great nellies swam about us; the mollymawks sat beside their big young ones among the penguins on the rocks; the whale-birds, too, made their homes in the deeper crevices. It is good to think that some creatures can stand the smell of penguins. Heavens! what a place to be marooned in! There was a dépôt here too, but lightning has destroyed it, and the sea is rarely fine enough to allow material to be landed to repair it. A sail is provided to catch water. Fortunately there is no suspicion that anybody was ever wrecked here. It is, however, a fact worth noting that, though no homeward-bound ship from Otago has ever been missed, half a dozen from Lyttelton have gone out which have never been heard of. The last of these, the “Marlborough,” left on the 11th January. She is not likely to have touched either this or the Antipodes group, as we should probably have found some trace of her. We sighted the “Rangitikei,” from Otago, two days out, soon after leaving these islands. We were glad to get back to the ship with her evil smell—away from the noise and the intolerable stench of the island. In moving away the captain took us slowly past the largest face of the largest island; it was one mass of penguins. Crowded as they were, I judged that there were a million penguins on the 100 acres of land in the group. There must have been fully as many—perhaps twice as many—in the water, for they were in flocks for miles out. Sir William Jervois and Captain Fairchild once made a calculation, and, I believe, concluded that five million penguins resorted there.
The captain assured us that they were often packed far closer than we saw them, and then there were fewer in the water.
The penguin gets out of the water in a heavy sea with great ease. It dives towards a sloping face of rock; then the sea carries it on as it swims under water high up towards it. It bounds like a fish upwards just as the sea is retreating, and lands flat-footed on the face of the rock. Long before another wave washes up it makes two or three vigorous jumps and is out of its reach. A land-animal would get smashed to atoms in the process. I shall never forget the quaint and beautiful sight presented by the rows of penguins as we passed slowly along the face of this desolate rock. We were now to windward, and the stench had vanished. The rocks are hard, coarse granite, and, as the penguins wholly desert them in winter, the rains wash them quite clean. There is not a blade of vegetation upon them; not a green thing, save the Pleurococcus, or green mould, which smeared the rocky walls here and there. The islands derive their name from the ship in which the brave and tyrannical Bligh sailed when he discovered them in 1788. We now started for home again. I understand it was originally the intention of our Government to annex Macquarie Island, further south than Campbell Island, but, finding that it was included in the Commission of the Governor of Tasmania, this could not be done. It is to be hoped that this will ultimately be arranged, as the island can be of no use to Tasmania—from which it is far distant—and its exclusion from New Zealand leaves us exposed to the depredations of seal-poachers. This island is the resort of sea-elephant hunters from New Zealand, and I am sorry to say that these have not always respected our laws for the protection of fur-seals. Professor Scott and Mr. (now Dr.) Reginald Strode visited it some years ago, and the former wrote an interesting account of his fortnight's stay there.*
There is said to be another island farther south called Emerald Island. All that is definitely said of it in authentic books is that the ship “Emerald,” in December, 1821, in lat. 57° 30′ S., long. 162° 12′ E., saw the resemblance of an island, very high, with peaked mountains. A gentleman living at Port Chalmers tells me that a sea-captain told him that he had seen it and had been round it, but could see no place for landing. It was a small, high, rocky island. This, however, has not been reported to navigators in these seas. Some maps and gazetteers now omit it. Commodore Wilkes sailed over the site of it in the “Vincennes,” and, separately, his vessel, the “Porpoise,” did the same. As the position was uncertain, and the weather thick, there is still a possibility of its being found, but it may
[Footnote] *Transactions, vol. xv., p. 484.
have been a cloud-effect only. A suggestion that it was an iceberg would not answer, as it was distant twenty-five miles, a distance at which the highest floating berg could not be seen. As seals were at one time numerous at Macquarie Island, and numerous ships visited it in pursuit of them until they were exterminated, it is not likely that they left Emerald Island unsought for.
We made a quick run to Port Chalmers, and so ended this most successful and enjoyable expedition. From all classes—officers, stewards, and sailors—we met with nothing but kindness and attention.