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who visited these bleak shores, for many years afterwards, was Sir Humphry Gilbert. He took possession in the name of Queen Elizabeth, but was lost on his return to England: his good brave words in the storm, however, are left us still, "Courage, friends! we are as near Heaven here as on the land."
From the beginning of the seventeenth century the French had a settlement at Placentia, on the south coast. In the year 1622, George Calvert landed from England, having with him seeds, grain, and cattle. His settlers were successful, and some of their descendants founded, in a commodious harbour, the capital, St. John's.
At the treaty of Utrecht, Louis XIV. of France gave up his claim to the island, which probably he did not care much about, as his subjects retained the right of fishing. It has ever since remained an English colony, and is at present garrisoned by a detachment of artillery and three companies of infantry. The barren soil and ungenial climate defy the skill and industry of the husbandman: wheat does not grow, the scanty crops of barley and oats rarely ripen; from sheltered places near the towns a moderate supply of potatoes and garden vegetables, is forced from the unwilling earth. There are a few cattle, the grasses being plentiful and nutritious. All else, for the use of man, comes from over sea. During the six months summer, some of the lakes and bays are rich in short-lived beauty. Few have penetrated into the interior, for any distance; the hills, as you advance, rise into mountains, the shrubs into trees: there is an idea that the centre of the island is a great valley, filled with numerous lakes and impassable morasses; none of the rivers are navigable far up the country, and there seems but little to tempt the explorer.
The natives met with in the first discovery were Esquimaux; fierce men of stalwart frame and intractable disposition, their complexion was a dark red, they were bold hunters and fishers, and of great courage in battle. From the first, they and the white men were deadly foes. The Mic-Mac Indians of Nova Scotia, and these red men, carried on a war of extermination against each other for centuries; each landing, with destructive swoop, on the other's coasts, scalping the men and carrying the women into slavery. The Esquimaux warriors were more frequently victorious, till, in an evil hour, they provoked the wrath of the pale-faces:
the rifle and the bayonet soon broke their spirit; abandoning the coasts and the hunting-grounds of their fathers, they fled into the dreary forests of the interior; sometimes, in the long winter nights, they crept out from their wild fastnesses, and visited some lonely hamlet with a terrible vengeance. The settlers, in return, hunted them down like wolves, and, in the course of years, their life of misery reduced their numbers, and weakened their frames so much, that they never ventured to appear; it was known that some few still lingered, but they were almost forgotten.
The winter of 1830 was unusually severe in this country, and prolonged beyond those of former years. Towards its close, a settler was hewing down trees at some distance from one of the remote villages, when two gaunt figures crept out from the neighbouring 'bush:' with sad cries and imploring gestures, they tried to express their prayer for help; the white man, terrified by their uncouth and haggard looks, seized his gun, which lay at hand, and shot the foremost; the other tossed his lean arms wildly into the air—the woods rang with his despairing shrieks as he rushed away. Since then, none of the fallen race have been seen. The emaciated frame of the dead man shewed how dire had been their necessity. There is no doubt that the last of the Redmen perished in that bitter winter.
The blue Peter summoned us on board; the wind had suddenly become favourable, leaving but little time for farewells; but ours were not the less warm and grateful for their being hurriedly spoken. Hats and handkerchiefs waved from the shore— an answering cheer from the ships—and we are on our way again.
For the first day we kept within sight of land; the character of the coast was everywhere the same —bluff headlands, deep bays, and monotonous hills covered with dwarf firs. On the fourth morning we passed close under the Bird islands; strange, hermit rocks, not more than a few acres in extent, without a shred of vegetation, standing alone in the unfathomable waters, far out of sight of land. Millions of white sea fowl circle round them, screaming overhead, or diving and splashing in the water below.
One day more and we skirt the dangerous, desolate shores of Anticosti, rich in wrecks, accursed in human suffering. This hideous wilderness has been the grave of hundreds; by the slowest and ghastliest of deaths they died—starvation. Washed ashore from maimed and sinking ships—saved to destruction—they drag their chilled and battered limbs up the rough rocks; for a moment, warm with hope, they look around, with eager, straining eyes, for aid and shelter—and there are none; the failing sight darkens on hill and forest, forest and hill, and black despair. Hours and days waste out the lamp of life, until at length the withered skeletons have only strength to die. These terrible and frequent disasters have at length caused steps to be taken to prevent their recurrence; there are now stations on the island, with stores of clothing and provisions, which have already preserved many lives. At Sable island, off Nova Scotia, the same system is adopted; here are also a considerable number of wild horses on the sandy hills, dwindled descendants of some shipwrecked ancestors:—in cases of emergency these stock the larder.
It was quite a relief when we found ourselves clear of this dismal neighbourhood, as with fair wind and crowding sails we entered the waters of the St. Lawrence. From the Point of Gaspe to the Labrador coast, is one hundred and twenty miles; and, through this ample channel, half the fresh water of the world has its outlet to the sea,