Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Life of the Icelander Jón Ólafsson: Youghal (Author: Jón Olafsson)

chapter 29



The next Sunday after Ascension Day1, about six of the clock, we saw land. It was an island close to the west of England which they call Sjörlis2. Great was the rejoicing on board, and all who lived and could speak gave thanks to God, and many of those who were sick dragged themselves on deck, though some of them had to return again to their beds. As night was at hand, the officers and those in authority thought it best to hold away from the land during the night, as shoals were to be expected. But the next morning the land had disappeared and a storm arose from the north-west which lasted eight days, during the which we lost our small and frail rudder, which in all but following winds had done us yeoman service.

Again we were come into sore straits, not knowing whether we were off France, England or Ireland, for all these countries lie close to each other, and all have red mud off their coasts on the sea bottom. When the north-west storm moderated the wind veered to the south-east. And about midnight the mates dropped the plummet overboard (as they frequently did) and found twenty-eight fathoms, and the sailors dropped the anchor and the yard was lowered to the bulwarks, but owing to the crew's weakness the sheets had perforce to dangle in the sea, there being but three men on their feet. My captain, Christoffer Boye, had now also taken to his bed, but for at least eight days before this, he crawled about on his knees.

Early one morning I heard the door of the cabin on the upper deck open (and heard no more) until someone came to me (I had lent my sleeping-place to my good friend Anders


Ólafsen). This was the Governor, Henrik Hess, who stood without and asked me if I could come to him. I said that I could do so if I might lean on him. And when I came out, he says that we are in great peril because we knew nought of where we were. I say we shall soon see land. He conducts me across the deck to the starboard side. It was squally weather with sunshine between the squalls. I tell him that I fancy that I see land over there where I point. He says no and offers to wager a rose noble against a dollar3, and gives me his hand upon it. Soon after the squall cleared away and the sun shone upon a fair wall on land. He left me and shouted, ‘Land! Land!’ clapping his hands, and all praised God with great rejoicings. And I was conducted down to the guns and fired fifteen shots, for the guns were already loaded4. Master Jóris, our first mate, said that it was Ireland, which lies twenty-nine sea-miles from England, washed all round by the sea5.

It so happened that a man had gone out of that town we saw, and which was called Johel or Jochel6, and of no set purpose but just for his pleasure, had walked out on a point which looks eastwards. This man saw us and heard the shots (though we were far from land, fully two sea-miles); and he hastened back to the town and before its chief men, and said that he had seen a large vessel out to sea, and that it was continually firing shots, and he added that he thought its rigging was very small. Whereat the harbour-pilots were ordered to seek out who these men might be. There were two of them, William and Robert7.


At once they started from land, each in his herring-buss8, and it was a race between them which should get to our vessel first, for they thought that whichever did so might reckon on a high reward. The weather was fickle and squally and we could see no more than that they were like to capsize, until one of them gave up, so saving both himself and his fellow, although he had to return almost to shore again with no profit. The first shouted to us and asked us how we fared and what ship we were. We told him with all clearness what it behooved him to know, and that it was our desire that the vessel might be brought into harbour.

He offered himself for the task and demanded a token and pledge from the chief man on board, that we would take none other than himself, and the profit which accrued therefrom he declared to be granted him by God, who had given him the good fortune to be the first to come out to us, we being in need of much aid. Captain Sixt Jakobson, the true captain of the Pearl, forthwith handed over to him his purse of red velvet with his gold signet ring attached, as a pledge of the agreement. And when everything had been done on both sides as agreed upon, this pledge was to be handed back to the captain.

Now things were come to that pass on board, as has been mentioned before, that men died daily, and nearly all were bedridden, so that none could help the other nor even give a drink the one to the other. So the moaning of helplessness and misery was heard everywhere among us, both on account of hunger and disease. Neither of the two pilots9 had any victuals on board their vessels or busses, save that one crew


had a raw cod, not yet cleaned, and this was at once cooked and portioned out among a hundred and seventeen men; and I got its shoulder-bone with a little of the flesh clinging to it, the which I chewed, bone and all.

The two crews of these pilots, and the pilots themselves, got our boat lowered with the assistance of some of our people, to whom it was a great effort. Then they lowered my captain, Christoffer Boye, down into our boat by a rope, he sitting in a chair, also the minister and those who were not able to help themselves. And when my captain, Christoffer Boye, had got into the boat, I gazed supplicatingly after him, and called out to him and begged him to bear me in mind, if he and I both lived, that I might come ashore as soon as possible. He waved to me with a kerchief and promised that, if he should survive, I should be conveyed to land at the first opportunity. And at parting, when they were about to be conveyed ashore, each party bade the other a loving farewell, leaving our next meeting in the hands and to the will of God.

Two of our people died while rowing to land and two more at table on shore, as they tasted fresh victuals. They were lovingly received in Johel10, and given many kinds of food and precious drinks. My captain, Christoffer Boye, lived two nights, and then died, and was given an honourable funeral and burial, costing 300 dollars11. A great iron bell which had not been rung for thirteen years was used on his funeral day, as a last honour and token of esteem, together with other fitting ceremonies. I was not ashore when these things happened.

The same night as our boat went ashore from the ship, it was sent back again by the highest in the town of Johel with a plenty of drink and victuals, viz. two whole oxen, twelve sheep slaughtered, twelve barrels of strong beer, two casks of biscuits and two of hard ship's bread of rye; one cask of butter, three casks of wine, one of which was of French brandy, another of Spanish wine and the third of French


mass-wine12. There were also new plates, wheat, two kinds of salt, vinegar, jugs and vessels, also herbs and wholesome green foods, also many kinds of distilled wine13, and tobacco. With the boat came a few of our people who had been ashore, together with the English14 who had been hired in the town to row.

And the next day a hundred men were taken and chosen at the town hall to be both watchmen and guardians of our ship and goods while sickness was so rife among our own people, and until the vessel could be got into harbour. These hundred men swore an oath on their souls and bodies that all their conduct, while their watch should last, should be honest and upright, without any false dealing. And further, that if a shot were heard from our vessel, even when they were ashore, they should make all haste out to her.

For it so happened that at that time a notorious and much hated robber and freebooter (as they are called) was constantly cruising in those waters, and often used violence against merchants and honest sailors, causing them terror by his robberies, murders and manslayings. His name was Captain Compan15, a man of low birth and a Fleming by race16. He had seven ships under his command and offered odds to many, as had recently happened at that time, when in the Spanish Main he offered battle to thirty-two vessels all in one company, of the kind which ply to Spain, and of which but few have as many as twelve guns. By such-like deeds he maintained himself for many years. He had a wife and children in Holland. He was a man of much experience, surpassing all others both at sea and in drinking-bouts, and much practised in navigation. The High Stater, States and Governors


of Holland17 had written a gracious letter to this man, urging him to desist from this evil life and mend his ways utterly, and they offered him the highest command at sea in Holland, with some kind of privileges. With this letter was sent a loving appeal from his lawful wife; but all this impressed him not a whit, for he well knew how much their advice and offer were worth, and the daily condemnation of his conscience told him how little he was worthy of them; and therefore he would not risk the venture. His drummer, by name Cornelis, had sickened of scurvy on this man's own ship, and been put ashore, and he came to us in Johel in Ireland and was tended with us. Later, he came with the Pearl to Denmark. He told us much about him and clearly described to us all his ways at sea and on land, how he had psalms and prayers sung both evening and morning, and other such Christian customs, and yet lived in his piracy and execrable crimes18.