Possibly the swiftest route to your roots.

Robert Whyte's 'The Journey Of An Irish Coffin Ship, 1847', Chapter 6

"The floods are risen. O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice: the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty and rage horribly: but yet the Lord who dwelleth on high is mightier."
-- David

Saturday 10 July

We spoke to a ferry which was conveying cattle from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and learned from the steersman the bearings of St Paul's Island. We shortly afterwards passed a large fleet coming from the gulf and in the afternoon descried Cape North. The passengers expressed great delight at seeing land and were under the impression that they were near their destination, little knowing the extent of the gulf they had to pass and the great river to ascend. Early in the evening we saw Isle St Paul and indistinctly the point of Cape Ray, between which and Cape North is the passage into the Gulf of St Lawrence. St Paul's Island lies about ten miles to the north of the latter cape, in latitude 47 14' North and longitude 60 11' 17' West. It is a huge rock, dividing at top into three conical peaks. Rising boldly from the sea there is a great depth of water all round it and vessels may pass at either side of it. It has been the site of numerous shipwrecks; many vessels carried out of their reckoning by the currents, having been dashed against it when concealed by fog and instantly shattered to atoms. Human bones and other memorials of these disasters are strewn around its base. We passed the light of this dangerous island at 10 p.m. entering into the 'goodly great gulf full of islands, passages and entrances towards what wind soever you please to bend'. This gulf was first explored by John Cabot in 1497, who called the coast of Labrador Primarista. The Portuguese afterwards changed the name of that desert region to Terra Coterealis and the gulf they designated as that of the 'Two Brothers' in memory of Gaspar and Michael Cotereal, the first named of whom not having returned from the second expedition he commanded, the latter went in search of him, but neither of them was afterwards heard of. Jaques Cartier, having entered it upon the festival of St Lawrence, gave to the gulf and the river flowing into it the name they still retain.

Sunday, 11 July

We had a fair wind and were going full sail at 7 knots an hour. At noon we passed the Bird Islands which are low ledges of rocks and swarm with gannets, numbers of which were flying about. They were as large as geese and pure white with the exception of the tips of the wings which were jet black. Some of Mother Carey's chickens were following in our wake and it was highly amusing to watch the contentions of the little creatures for bits of fat thrown to them. We had a distant view of the Magdalen Islands which, although lying nearer to Nova Scotia, are considered as belonging to Canada and form a portion of the circuit within the district of Gaspe, court being held at Amherst harbour annually from 1 to 10 July. The largest of the group are Bryon, Deadman's, Amherst, Entry and Wolf islands which are inhabited by a hardy race of fishermen. The huge walrus may at times be seen upon their shores.

12 July

In the morning we were becalmed, the water being smooth as glass and of a beautifully clear, green hue. A breeze sprung up at 12 o'clock and, the captain having provided himself and me with lines, we spent the afternoon fishing for mackerel, which were so plentiful that I caught seventy in about two hours, when I had to give over, my hands being cut by the line. The captain continued and had a barrel full by evening. They were the finest mackerel I ever saw and we had some at tea which we all enjoyed as a delicious treat after six weeks of salt beef and biscuit diet. Many of the passengers, having noticed our success, followed our example and lines were out from every quarter; all the twine, thread, etc. that could be made out being put into requisition, with padlocks and bolts for weights and wire hooks. Even with such rude gear they caught a great number, but their recreation was suddenly terminated, a young man who was drawing in a fish having dropped upon the deck quite senseless and apparently dead. He was carried below and put into his berth, there to pass through the successive stages of the fever.

Tuesday 10 July

We were again becalmed during the forenoon, but a breeze that soon become a gale arose about 1 p.m. and lasted until evening, being accompanied by thunder and lightning and followed by a heavy shower of rain. The clouds cleared away at sunset when we were within 10 or 12 miles of the eastern point of the island of Anticosti which, when the captain perceived, he gave the order to sheer off on the other tack. This island is particularly dangerous, being surrounded by sunken reefs. It is of considerable extent, being 130 miles in length from east to west and 30 miles across its greatest breadth. Its surface is low and level and covered with a pristine forest, through which prowls the bear undisturbed, except when hunted by Indians who periodically resort hither for that purpose. The sterility of its soil offering no inducement to the white man, it is uninhabited except by the keepers of the lighthouses to which are attached small establishments for the purpose of affording relief to shipwrecked mariners. The name 'Anticosti' is probably a corruption of Natiscotee, which it is called by the aborigines. Cartier named it L'isle de L' Assumption.

Wednesday, May, 14

We had the bold headlands of Capes Gaspe and Rosier on our left and had entered the majestic river St Lawrence which here, through a mouth 90 miles in width, after a course of upwards of 2,000 miles, disgorges the accumulated waters of the great lakes swollen by the accession of hundreds of tributaries (some of them noble rivers) draining an almost boundless region. The reports of the suffering in the hold were heartrending. Simon and Jack were both taken ill. Last night I was suddenly wakened by the captain shouting 'Get up! Get up and come on deck quickly!' Somewhat alarmed I obeyed the summons as speedily as possible and was well recompensed for the start by the magnificence of the glorious scene I beheld. The northern portion of the firmament was vividly illuminated with a clear though subdued light, while across it shot fiery meteors from different directions, now rushing against each other as if engaged in deadly warfare, again gliding about in wanton playfulness. Disappearing for a while and leaving behind a faintly luminous trail, they would again burst forth upon their stage, lighted up by a sudden flash for the igneous perforrners. I watched with delight until the lustrous picture was finally enshrouded in darkness when I returned to bed. There was birth on board this morning and two or three deaths were momentarily expected. The mate's account of the state of the hold was harrowing. It required the greatest coercion to enforce anything like cleanliness or decency and the head committee had no sinecure office. I spent the greater part of the day upon deck, admiring the numberless jets dread of the bottlenose whales that plunged about in the water. The poor mistress was greatly grieved about Jack and Simon and the captain was savage for lack of assistance.

Friday 16 July

We were tacking about all day which, though tedious I enjoyed, as it afforded an opportunity of seeing both shores of the noble river. That to the north is indescribably grand, rugged mountains rising precipitously from out the water, and indented by sweeping bays, in which are numerous islets. Towards evening we were in view of Seven Islands Bay, lovely though desolate. No human eyes behold this region of unbroken solitude, save now and then those which can but lightly appreciate its grandeur. I cannot describe the effect produced by the mist that sometimes completely hides the mountains, rolling up their sides and resembling gracefully festooned drapery. The sailors who could work were greatly harassed by being obliged to tack repeatedly. The mate especially was one moment down in the hold waiting on some dying fellow creature; the next perhaps stretched across a yard, reefing a top-sail. Although lame, he was surprisingly active and used to astonish the emigrants, one of whom said to me 'Och! your honour, isn't Mr Mate a great bit of a man?'

Saturday, 17 July

The morning was fine and shortly after breakfast I was upon deck admiring the beauty of the pine-clad hills upon the southern shore of the river, when the captain came up from the cabin and after looking about gave the word to 'double reef top-sail and make all snug'. Not long after, the sky, which had been quite clear, became black and a violent gale arose, lashing the water into tremendous waves which tossed us mercilessly about, one moment borne up by an angry billow, the next plunging into a deep abyss. The roaring wind was drowned by the tremendous noise of successive peals of thunder, while the forked lightning played about in zigzag lines and the rain descended in torrents. At 5 p.m. the wind abated and the waves began to subside. About an hour after, the leaden clouds parted and, as if in defiance of the contending elements, the sun set in gorgeous splendour. The poor passengers were greatly terrified by the storm and suffered exceedingly. They were so buffeted about that the sick could not be tended and after calm was restored a woman was found dead in her berth.  
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