Possibly the swiftest route to your roots.

Robert Whyte's 'The Journey Of An Irish Coffin Ship, 1847', Chapter 5

Friday 2 July

We were enveloped in a dense fog and had a horn sounding constantly. One of the patients, who was represented to be dying, sent for the mate and, giving him the key of his box in which there was a small sum of money, requested him to take charge of it and, upon his return to Ireland, send it to his (the sick man's) mother. The mate promised to do so but did not consider the poor fellow as bad as he himself feared he was.

Saturday, 3 July

Any idea I ever formed of complete horror was excelled by the stern reality of the frightful picture which the past night presented. The gloom spread around by the impenetrable fog was heightened by the dismal tone of the foghorn, between each sound of which might be heard the cries and ravings of the delirious patients and occasionally the tolling of a bell, warning us of the vicinity of some fishing-boat, numbers of which were scattered over the banks. The mate being unable to make an observation, we were obliged to depend upon his 'dead reckoning'.
Sunday, 4 July

We enjoyed a favourable breeze, and the fog having cleared off at noon, the mate made an observation, by which we were in 45' N lat. 51' W lon. No new cases of sickness were reported but some of the patients were said to be very bad. We spoke to a bark and a brig, both homeward bound and differed but little in longitude. There was something exciting in listening to the friendly voice from the deep toned speaking trumpet and in beholding the board marked with the longitude. In a few moments the ensigns were lowered and each pursued its course. The day was exceedingly cold, so much so that the captain supposed that we were in the neighbourhood of icebergs and I hoped to see one of these castellated floating masses, lifting its pinnacles on high and glittering in the rays of the sun.

Monday, 5 July

The morning was foggy and we were near running into a French fishing boat. The captain having given orders for sounding, Jack was sent to find the reel and line, which he brought up from the depths of the lazaretto. This receptacle for all sorts of commodities was situated below the cabin and it afforded me some amusement to see the boy, by the faint light of the lantern, groping among beef casks, pork barrels, paint and tar pots, spars and rusty irons. The sails having been put aback so that the brig stood motionless upon the bosom of the water, the reel was held by a man at the stern and the line being uncoiled was drawn outside the ropes of the rigging, until it reached the bow. The lead was then attached and carried by a seaman to the point of bowsprit, where the sailor sat swinging the weight like a pendulum until, upon the order to heave, he cast it forth upon its mission. Bottom having been found at thirty-four fathoms, the line was placed upon a pulley and drawn up when there was found imbedded in the grease with which the lead was Hlled, fine white sand, as laid down in the chart. The sails were again set to the breeze and we were once more gliding through the water, the momentary commotion soon settling down into the usual insanity.

Tuesday 6 July

During the past night there was a heavy fall of rain which left the atmosphere clear and cool. Two men (brothers) died of dysentery and I was awakened by the noise made by the mate, who was searching for an old sail to cover the remains with. In about an hour after, they were consigned to the deep, a remaining brother being the solitary mourner. He continued long to gaze upon the ocean, while a tear that dropped from his moistened eye told the grief he did not otherwise express. I learned in the afternoon that he was suffering from the same complaint that carried off his brothers.

Wednesday 7 July

The phosphorescent appearance of the ocean at night was very beautiful. We seemed to be gliding through a sea of liquid fire. We passed a great number of fishing boats, chiefly French, from the isles St Pierre and Miquelon. They were anchored at regular intervals for the purpose of catching cod-fish, which, allured by the vast numbers of worms found upon the bottom, abound upon the banks. The vessels generally are large sloops and have a platform all round with an awning over the deck. When a fish is taken, it is immediately split and cleaned, then it is thrown into the hold and, when the latter is full, the fishermen return home and land their cargo to be dried and saved. Owing to these processes being sometimes too long deferred, the bank fish, though larger, is considered inferior to that taken along the coast of Newfoundland. Great variety of opinion exists respecting the nature and origin of these submarine banks but none of them appears to me so natural as this. The stream which issues from the Gulf of Mexico, commonly called the 'Florida gulf stream', being checked in its progress by the southern coast of Newfoundland, deposits the vast amount of matter held in suspension. This, by accumulation, formed the banks which are still increasing in extent. The temperature of the water upon the banks is higher than that of the Gulf of St Lawrence and of the ocean and its evaporation causes the fog that almost perpetually prevails. The afternoon was clear with a gentle breeze which formed a ripple on the surface of the water and gave a beautiful appearance to the reflection of the declining sun, looking like jets of gas bursting from the deep.

Thursday 8 July

Another of the crew was taken ill, thereby reducing our hands when they were most required. The captain had a great dread of the coast of Newfoundland which, being broken into deep bays divided from each other by rocky capes, is rendered exceedingly perilous, more especially, as the powerful currents set towards this inhospitable shore. We kept a lookout for some vessel coming from the gulf, in order to learn the bearings of land but did not perceive one during the day.

Friday 9 July

A few convalescents appeared upon deck. The appearance of the poor creatures was miserable in the extreme. We now had fifty sick, being nearly one half the whole number of passengers. Some entire families, being prostrated, were dependent on the charity of their neighbours, many of whom were very kind, but others seemed to be possessed of no feeling. Among the former, the head committee was conspicuous. The brother of the two men who died on the sixth instant followed them today. He was seized with dismay from the time of their death, which no doubt hurried on the malady to its fatal termination. The old sails being all used up, his remains were placed in two meal-sacks and a weight being fastened at foot, the body was placed upon one of the hatch battens from which, when raised over the bulwark, it fell into the deep and was no more seen. He left two little orphans, one of whom - a boy, seven years of age - I noticed in the evening wearing his deceased father's coat. Poor little fellow! He seemed quite unconscious of his loss and proud of the accession to his scanty covering. The remainder of the man's clothes were sold by auction by a friend of his who promised to take care of the children. There was great competition and the 'Cant', as they called it, occasioned jibing and jesting, which it was painful to listen to surrounded as were the actors (some of whom had just risen from a bed of sickness), by famine, pestilence and death.  
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