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Was Alexander Low on the Friendship?

The Friendship, under the command of Captain John Wilson, sailed from Port Chalmers on October 10 1877 for Macquarie Island. It was carrying on board a replacement crew for those on Macquarie Island – Captain Donald Sinclair and a small gang engaged by Cormack, Elder and Company. Sinclair kept a journal of his trip on the Friendship and it documents the changeover of whaling crews. Thomson, who was in the party being replaced, gave an account of the departure from Macquarie Island, mentioning a Mr Low, possibly the mate.

“At 2pm (November 27) Macquarie Island was sighted about twenty miles away to the east-south-east. The ship was worn, all possible sail made, and at 5 pm the friendship came to anchor in 12 fathoms of water with 60 fathoms of cable paid out. The foresail and mainsail were double-reefed and everything prepared for slipping.

There was great excitement on the island when the Friendship was sighted. At 6pm Thomson went aboard from the dinghy and reported that his party were all well. . . During their stay Thomson’s party had made 15 tons of oil. This was rolled down to the water’s edge and rope buckets were fixed in simple sailor fashion to the hoops of the barrels, for convenience in floating and towing them. The barrels were then rolled and pushed into the surf, towed alongside the schooner, and hoisted on board. The men became wet to the neck launching the barrels, but they were homeward bound, and worked most willingly.

On Saturday 1 December, the landing of the last batch of empty casks, as well as stores, personal effects, etc. was commenced at 4am. At 1pm Captain Sinclair landed with his gang.. On landing he was given possession of the huts, and the new party assisted the old party to embark, which was completed at 10pm. At about 8pm Thomson, Captain Bezer, and Mr Low, (there were about 5 others in the party) said goodbye to Captain Sinclair and pushed off in the dinghy for the Friendship, taking with them the last of their things.”
[J.S. Cumpston, 1968]

The story of their departure is told by Thomson:

“I had carefully preserved a fine specimen of a sea-elephant, twenty-two feet in extreme length. intended for the Dunedin Museum. The skin had been put into salt in a large oil barrel. We arranged for it to be taken aboard in the last boat, with Captain Bezer, Mr Low, the mate, and myself. It being impossible to lift the cask, the boat was turned over on its broadside, the gunwale under the bilge of the barrel, which was then rolled into the bottom and the boat righted. We were then dismayed to notice that one of the bottom planks had been forced in, so that there was a hole in the bottom of the boat big enough to admit a man’s hand. The plank, however, sprang back into Its place again, and we decided to risk it, as it was now getting dusk, and so the boat was launched through the surf.

“Fate, however, was against us, for a dense fog set in making It mpossible to find the Friendship. We rowed out into the direction of the schooner, and hallooed together our very loudest, but no reply came. We then decided to stand in for the shore, and guided only by the direction of the wind, and the roll of the sea we were fortunate enough to make out the loom of the land, then to see and hear the breakers.

“To attempt to land would have been disastrous, as the rocks were all about us, and it was now quite dark, so we headed down the coast, to a comparatively sheltered little bay and, after waiting for a smooth, worked the boat in through the breakers, and struck the beach heavily. The next sea filled the boat and turned her broadside on, but we managed to scramble on shore safely. Much to my chagrin, we found that the cask containing my beautiful elephant skin had disappeared amidst the white breakers. After a long, weary tramp we at last reached our old camp.”
[Thomson, Voyages and Wanderings]

“When Captain Sinclair’s boat returned from the Friendship, his men reported that the dinghy had not reached the ship. Whilst Sinclair was debating what was to be done, Thomson suddenly arrived and said that he had beached the boat about three miles down the coast. Shortly afterwards the other two (Bezer and Low) reached the huts. Thomson asked Sinclair to launch a boat and put them on board, but Sinclair did not think this was prudent. Instead, he gave them dry clothing, a good hot supper, and the best beds at his disposal. They turned out at 6am and an hour later Sinclair launched the whale boat and duly put them on board the schooner.”
[Cumpston, 1968]

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