- Historic Sites
Being Eliza Williams’s own journal of her thirty-eight-month voyage with her husband, master of the ship Florida, from New Bedford to Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk in pursuit of the great whales
June 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 4
We have about one hundred Chickens running about the deck, that my Husband got from the Island yesterday. We didn’t get but a few Cocoanuts. They do not like to part with them. It appears that they live almost entirely on them. They are a very indolent People and do not cultivate their land any of any account. I could not learn that they raise anything except a few squashes. Their wants are few as they do not care for anything but their tobacco and pipes. They trade their Chickens to the Ships for these.
The Natives usually come off to the Ships, but they did not this time in consequence of the taboo of the King, which is practiced certain times of the year. These Natives do not wear any clothing.…
April 1st. A beautiful day. We have had company all day. Before I was up this morning, there was a Sail seen from aloft, and when I went on deck we could see her quite plainly from the deck. … It was the Arctic, Captain Philips. He had been to the Sandwich Islands and his Ship is half Clipper. My Husband was acquainted with him, but as to that—the Captains are all acquainted when they meet.
He came on board of us and stayed all day. Our Mate, with a boat’s crew, went on board of them and stopped all day. Captain Philips is a very pleasant, agreeable Man, to all appearance. He is bound to the Japan Sea with us. I suppose he will get there first. He has gone on board of his Ship this evening. He brought us some papers from the Islands, some of them New Bedford papers, later news than any we have had since we left home. I had some nice oranges given me. He had his Wife and four Children with him the last voyage.…
April 8th. …The Carpenter has been making a beautiful little chair for the Baby.…
Poor winds delayed them, and Eliza noted that they almost “despaired of ever getting to the Japan Sea in season,” but finally on April g they entered the whaling grounds.
April 12th. …There is a good deal of land in sight. The mountains are all covered with snow.
The water has been dotted, here and there, with little Japanese Junks. The Men were fishing, but as soon as they saw our Ship heading towards them, they began to hoist their sails and made off as fast as they could. Mr. Morgan took one of them by surprise and overtook him. They seemed to be so busy fishing that they did not observe him, till he got close alongside of them. They appeared frightened almost to death when they saw him. They went to the farthest part of their boat and motioned our Men to be off. They tried to make them understand they were friendly, but it was no use. One of them was so frightened that he frothed at the mouth.
They had on board a dish of boiled rice and some little fish that they had caught. Mr. Morgan made motion to the Fish and one of them took up a little Fish and ate it right down raw. They thought he was after the Fish, and commenced throwing them into our boat. The Mate motioned to them that he did not want them. They then stopped.
The Men are large, stout looking people and there was a Woman on board, who, the Mate said he should think would weigh nearly two hundred. Their boats are rude looking, but strong.…
May 6th. We arrived in the Harbor of Hakodadi [Hakodate, one of the first two Japanese ports that had been opened to American ships by Commodore Perry’s treaty in 1854] last night and anchored about dark. This place is quite large. There is no great show about it—the houses are all rather small, and all with the exception of a very few are brown. This is a splendid Harbor and a large one. There are several Whale Ships and a Russian Man of War in here besides any number of Junks and two or three Schooners in which the Japanese go out after Whales.…
May 8th. …I arose very early this morning, to have everything in readiness to go on shore.
Quite a number of the Japanese Officers came aboard early to transact Ship business with my Husband. They were dressed nicely though quite singularly, to me. Their dress is quite loose and slouching, very loose pants if they can be called such, and a kind of loose cloak with very large sleeves. Their shoes are quite odd. The big Folks wear very handsome ones ornamented with cord; the common People wear wooden ones, making a good deal of noise as they walk.
These Officers carried two sheaths in their belts and my Husband wanted to see them. They did not like to have him even touch them, but after some coaxing, they took them out. One was a sword and one a long, sharp dirk knife, very nice and bright.
They had an interpreter with them and he raised the knives to show how they used them and how the Americans used them. He said they struck with the sword and we ran it into the body—and they cut off the head with the knife, which it seems they do for a small offence.
They were highly pleased with the Baby. They crowded around him, feeling of him, and talking and laughing with him. It appears that they take their offices as soon as they are born, for little fellows that can just walk are dressed like Officers, with their swords by their sides.…
We went on shore.… There was a funeral procession just going to the Temple as we landed. We landed among Junks as thick as they could lie in the water, it seemed. We stepped out of the boat onto the stairs. There are several long steps where the boats land.