- 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
There was a crowd of People and we thought we would like to go and see the ceremony, so we followed right along in the procession to the Temple. Four Men were bearing the litter, a frame of some kind, on which was placed a barrel containing the Corpse. It is pressed down in a sitting posture and the barrel covered all over with white cloth and quite a fancy little house over it. When we reached the Temple, it was set down just inside of the door and the house taken off, but the cloth was not removed.
There was a railing all around the room (which was not large) forming a large space in the center and a good deal of room outside of it. There was a stand within the enclosure where stood a row of Men dressed somewhat differently from the rest, chanting or singing over something. The Priest once or twice struck a bell near him. The Doctor also was there. They were all muttering over something. On a stand near them was burning incense in a small saucer. The Japanese were sitting around the floor in the center of the room and the mourners on the floor outside of the railing, with white cloths on their heads. There was no appearance of sorrow among any of them. The Minister made a long prayer, and they all jumped up and hurried away. The Corpse was carried to the mountain, where they are burned and the ashes buried.…
After a month in the Japan Sea, the Florida sailed for the far northern summer whaling grounds in the Sea of Okhotsk. Once there, the small boats were sent out to scout for whales while the crew left aboard the Florida tried to keep the whaler from getting “jammed about with the ice.”
June 5th. …Have just spoken the Bark Florence, Capt. Spencer. He came aboard and stopped a spell. He said that he did not know but he had letters for us. My Husband went aboard of his Ship, and brought me a letter from my Brother Albert. It truly is a great privilege to hear from Friends. I feel it so. And it came so unexpected, too. It was as late as the goth of January. All were well at home then. My Husband has gone aboard of the Northern Light, to tea.
June 6th. It is not very pleasant today. The wind is blowing a gale. Some ice floating about in the night. My Husband was up a good part of the night.
We have taken up the anchor. I hardly know where we are now. I know that the Ship is heading north by west. Have tacked Ship several times; have been steering for the ice and away from it; saw a boat in the ice, the other side, this morning but do not know whether it is ours or another Ship’s. Are quite anxious to find out. I hope in mercy that they will not suffer. The wind and ice will keep us apart a spell I am afraid.… This is the fourth day since we sent the boats off.
June 7th. The wind is still blowing a gale.… About half past six saw boats through the ice. They seemed to have a hard time getting along. They had to get out on the ice and drag their boats over it. About 8 o’clock I went on deck and they were very near us. I counted 12, but there were 15 in company. We took aboard 5 boat’s crews besides our own. We had 10 boats on the cranes at one time. We gave them all their breakfast and in a short time spoke the Ships that they belonged to and they went aboard. There was another Ship near us that took boats also. They did not come far this morning. They stopped over night just around a point of land ahead of where we took them aboard. We saw the smoke last night and concluded they would stop there.
This is the 5th day since [our boats] left the Ship. They could not get very far the first day on account of the ice. The next day they got to the head of the Bay which is 40 miles. They found there a Russian fishing company. There were about 20 houses but only two of them occupied at that time, all the Men but one being off fishing up the river. [Our men] call the place Dobarry Town. There is a large settlement not far [away] where [the Russians] trade. They seemed to be quite comfortable and had plenty of dried salmon and milk. There was quite a number of Women and Children—one crazy one. She was very noisy.
Some of the boats belonged to a Russian Bark. [The men from those boats] could talk very good English, so they could interpret to our Men what those Russians [from Dobarry Town] said. They invited the Officers to stop with them over night, which they did, and the Sailors slept in the unoccupied [houses]. They had benches around the room which they sat on and also slept on, covering themselves with skins. [The Russians] seem to know all about the Whales. They say it is not time for them to come in the Bay yet; they come in their regular season with other fish—first, White Fish which are plenty now, then Salmon Trout (they are catching a few of those now), then Salmon, and last Bowheads. They say the Salmon will come in 7 days and the Bowheads in 15 days, when the Bay will be full of them.…