20 March 2008

Canadian Surveyor Bayfield Visits With Audubon on Labrador Journey

Some interesting notations in the handwritten journals Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield regard a period in 1833 while conducting a survey for Canadian nautical charts - such as geographic features and water depths - along the northern shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The survey crew was sailing along in the Gulnare, a two-masted schooner, with its name apparently derived from the name of a slave in "The Corsair," an 1814 poem by Lord Byron.

It was June 1833, when the survey ship was near Natashquan Point, by the mouth of the river with the same name on the coast of the gulf, in eastern Quebec, northward from Anticosti Island. Bayfield noted there were several other boats about one particular day, and wrote about this in his journal entry.

"Saturday, 22 June 1833. ... "Found 6 American Schooners belonging to East Port in the State of Main[e] all belonging to one person who is here with them. We also found another American Schooner here, the Ripley of Eastport, employed in a very diff't way having Mr. Audubon onboard, the Naturalist, with several young men, two of them medical students of Boston. Mr. J.J. Audubon Senior; J.W. Audubon junior, his son; Thos. Lincoln, Marine; Jos'h Cooledge, Mate of the Ripley; Geo. G. Shattuck, Boston, Medical Student; Will'm Ingall, Do. Do.; -- Emery, Master of the Ripley. These take the departments of Botany &c. &c., in short they collect everything. But Mr. Audubon has come principally for the purpose of studying the habits of the water Fowl with which the Coast of Labrador abounds and to make drawings of them for his splendid work upon the Birds of America. He sent his Card onb'd with a polite note & I received him onboard and we found him a very superior person indeed. It is probable we shall meet often as he proceeds along the coast which we are going to Survey.
[Audubon painting of Common Eider]
"Rain all the remainder of the day.
"Sunday, 23 June 1833. Light breezes SSW and foggy wea'r in the early part of the day but cleared before Noon. Sent Mr. Bowen to Survey the small harbour &c. Obs'd for latitude. Returned Mr. Audubon's visit and was delight with his drawings, the Birds being represented of the same size as when alive, and most beautifully painted. P.M. obs'd for Time & diff'e Longitude, also for true bearing. Variation & Angles for the Survey of this small Anchorage. At Night the wind hauled more towards the SE with fog & drizzling rain.
"In walking over the Islets & rocks of the mainland to day we found large massed of snow remaining in every part. Nevertheless 10 or 12 species of Flowers were seen.
"Monday, 24 June 1833." ... "Three hundred vessels are said by the owner of the American schooners to be employed in the Fisheries upon this Coast averaging 75 Tons & manned by 50 men to each Six Vessels, equal to 2,500 men. Of these one half are French, one forth British, and the rest American. Each Vessel takes away one with another about 1500 Quintals of Cod Fish of 112 lbs. pr. Quintal. The Fish average about 4 pounds in weight being small on this Coast. We heard from the Americans about the Eggers to day, a set of people whom we now for the first time heard spoken of collectively as a body. We had previously no idea of the extent of the 'Egging business' as our informant termed it. It appears that in some seasons 20 small schooners or shallops, of from 20 to 30 Tons, laod with Eggs from this coast. Halifax is the principal market for them where they at times fetch a much higher price than Hens' Eggs. They are stowed in the hold in bulk and kept for several weeks without any preparation. These men, the Eggers, combine together and form a strong company. They suffer no one to interfere with their business, driving away the Fisherman or anyone else that attempts to collect Eggs near where they happen to be. Might makes right with them, it is clear, they have arms and are said by the Fishermen not to be very scrupulous in using the,. As soon as they have filled one Vessel with eggs they send her to market, others follow in succession so that the Market is always supplied but never overstocked. One Vessel of 25 tons is said to have cleared 200 pounds by this 'Egging Business' in a favourable Season.
"Tuesday, 25 June 1833" ... "Mod'e breezes SSW to SE hauling round to the latter point during the day which was remarkably fine. At Noon Obs'd for Latitude & P.M. for Time and Rates. Also 24 Lunar Distances. Employed calculating observations and Mr. Bowen plotting the Harbour. Mr. Hamilton getting wood, water, & looking for Brooms diffic't to be had.
"The small fishing schooners without square topsails succeeded in beating out to day the ater being perfectly smooth, but one of them got on a rock in the entrance and might have suffered if the Tide had not been rising & floated her off. The whole of these schooners anchored under Natashquan Pt. about 5 miles from us to Fish. There remained with us only Mr. Audubon's Vessel which being of 106 Tons & drawing between 9 & 10 feet did not I supposed like to attempt to beat out. At night the weather became overcast & the breeze freshened from the SE with squalls of rain, previously to this it had been very warm with thousands of moschettoes onboard." ...
"Friday, 28 June 1833." ... "About 2 oClock the American Sch'r Ripley weighed and made sail and we followed him in about 5 minutes. The wind had backed round to the Southw'd of the West whilst we were weighing and was still hauling round to the Southw'd by degrees. The Ripley barely weathered the East Pt. and got out, we were less fortunate for the wind headed us just as we came to the Pt. and obliged us to tack within 10 fathoms of it." ...

A subsequent entry also mentions the famed ornithologist. Both met up again when at Havre du Gros Mecatina (Grand Mecatina Harbour).

"Sunday, 21 July 1833. Strong breezes SW and squalls of wind & rain occasionally. We started early as usual and at 1/2 past 8 AM arrived at Grand Mecattina Point and proceeded to the third Islet off it to the Sew'd/ Mr. Bowen arrived soon after and we remained on the island 'till Noon and obs'd for Latitude through the fog which came on at 10 AM with a very fresh Gale from the SW.
"Just as we arrived the Ripley Mr. Audubon's Schooner hauled in round the islands intending to Anchor in Grand Mecattina harbour but not knowing the place they ran into Portage Bay instead. At 1 P.M. Mr. Bowen & I ran for shelter under double reefed sails and were received with the greatest kindness by Mr. Audubon, his Son Mr. Audubon junior, the other gentlemen of the party and the Captain of the Ripley, Mr. Emery. Mr. Audubon kindly invited us to dine and we passed a very pleasant afternoon with him & his party and encamped in the evening in the same cove.
"Mr. A--'s kindness did not stop here, understanding that we were in danger of being short of provisions before we could complete the Survey back to the Gulnare, he offered me every assistance in his powers and I accepted of a Ham and some potatoes which last were kindly offered by Mr. Emery. I purchased from the latter three days allowance of Bread and Beef for the party which set me quite at ease on the score of provisions." ...

There was an additional entry in the journal for the following day:

"Monday, 22 July 1833. Light westerly wind and fine morning, commenced our return Survey taking leave of Mr. Audubon &c. at 6 AM. In passing out between the islands and Grand Mecattina point we encountered a tremendous Sea left by the recent SW gale. The waves not only hid the Boats from each other but even the tops of the mountains could not be seen when we were in the hollow of the Sea. We got in among the islets at 9 AM and continued the Survey within our former route." ....

In subsequent years, the captain was also involved in nautical surveys at Prince Edward Island, Gaspe Peninsula, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.

There were a few bird notes from the six extant journals kept by Bayfield - a record of his 44-year career - which were made only during periods in 1829 to 1835, although he was involved in nautical surveys from 1827 to 1856.

Captain Bayfield's notes add a bit of additional history of interest for the Labrador journey made by the now-renowned bird man, John James Audubon.

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