Death of Capt. Gravill
From the Log of Dr Edward Smith. Doctor on board the Diana
Thursday, December 20th. —Last night was magnificently clear and bright. The brilliant light of the moon, reflected from the unsullied snow-covered pack, revealed the jagged heaps and torn masses of ice with startling distinctness. The islands and icebergs around us stood out in bold relief against the sky, a sky glittering with myriads of stars, and anon flashing and flickering with the ever-changeful coruscations of the Aurora Borealis. The ice and ship were quiet, and we were mercifully favoured with a night of undisturbed repose. This morning the sun rose in a sky gorgeous with purple and crimson, his lower rim clearing the horizon at a quarter to ten. During the morning the ship was driving rapidly towards our old enemy, the grounded berg. The ice around us was frequently in great commotion, nipping up and crashing and grinding. We trust that the heavy masses of ice in which the ship is frozen fast will protect us from the frequent and alarming pressure of the fresh ice and bergs which are constantly coming down from Cumberland Gulf, and which loom heavily on our northern horizon. The captain is confined to his cabin with asthma and bronchitis. He is very weak, and suffers mostly from sleeplessness induced by nervous excitement resulting from mental anxiety.
Friday, December 21st. —To-day has been the shortest day in the year, the earth having travelled its extreme distance from the sun. All of us have been looking forward to this day with no little anxiety, dreading that the sun might totally disappear for some days and involve us in darkness. Most providentially we have been spared this additional trial. The captain was much worse this morning, but as the day advanced he became quieter and more easy.
Saturday, December 22nd. —At breakfast-time Bill Reynolds, who had been sitting up with the captain, told me he had been very restless and uneasy. The captain lay upon the sofa during breakfast. He complained of no pain—nothing but mental anxiety and want of sleep, his constant cry being: "Oh, doctor, if you can, do give me something to make me sleep !"
Sunday, December 23rd. —Busy with the captain. It is extremely difficult to move the poor old gentleman, with whom I spent pretty nearly the whole day.
Monday, December 24th. —Was up all night with the captain, who continues very ill. The different officers took it in turns to sit up with me; most melancholy work. This morning he slept, his breathing being easy and regular. There seemed to be such a change for the better that I began to entertain some hopes of his recovery, and so I felt remarkably cheered up and buoyant indeed.
Tuesday, December 25th (Christmas Day). —I spent the entire night with the captain, who was extremely restless and uneasy. The weather during the night was horribly cold in the cabin. At 8 a. m. I went on deck, and found the ship driving with great rapidity towards a large iceberg. We passed within three or four ship's lengths of the berg. We were most wonderfully preserved from driving upon it or being crushed by the whirling, crashing ice, which was in commotion far and
Wednesday, December 26th (Morning). —This morning the captain is much worse, and is sinking rapidly. We continue our mournful watch by his couch. It is very affecting to see the good old man, his lips moving incessantly, as though in prayer, and conscious that his end is approaching. Later. —The harpooners continued to relieve each other in the cabin every two hours. Bill Reynolds invariably knelt down upon entering the cabin, and prayed for the poor soul then passing away.
Thursday, December 27th. —Most miserably thick and foggy weather, with snow and a keen frost. The ship's company is much depressed and low-spirited, each man brooding and unhappy, which is not to be wondered at. The death of the captain has cast a gloom like a funeral pall over us all. We are in miserable circumstances too, with regard to means for warmth and cooking. The cook has been reduced to four buckets of coal per day for the galley or rotten whale's flesh, fished up from the tanks. Certainly it burns with a great heat, but at the same time fills the ship with an almost intolerable stench. Poor Joe is in despair, and does not see how he can possibly cook for all hands with such a pitiful allowance of fuel. We cannot afford more, though, for there is now not a fortnight's supply of coal left in the bunkers at this reduced rate of consumption. God help us ! How we are to get through the remaining months of an Arctic winter without firing I cannot tell. The men, poor fellows, suffer a good deal from want of their accustomed hot tea, and vainly attempt to boil their kettles over the lamps in the 'tween and half decks, a proceeding which causes the lamps to emit volumes of thick, horrible smoke, greatly adding to our discomfort and covering everything and everybody with a thick layer of soot. I noticed one man to-day trying to boil his kettle over a bottle full of oil with a tow wick.
Friday, December 28th. —The same wretched, thick, and gloomy weather, with constant snow and sleet; the same deep wretchedness and misery with all on board; the same dismal cookery over lamps; the same monotonous pump, pump, pump, day and night; the same wretched meals.
Saturday, December 29th. —Whilst walking the deck with the engineer we were very much cheered at the sight of a large flight of rotches. They flew close past the ship, going to the North-East. The reader can hardly credit what an invigorating influence the sight of these little birds inspired. We know that their appearance indicates water. The direction of their course leads us to hope that spring-time, which these birds indicate, will come upon us early. To-day there has been a very heavy gale blowing from the North-East—by far the heaviest gale we have experienced since coming into the country last May. The strength of the wind was something astonishing. The men could not stand at the pumps, and once, when passing the gangway, I was very nearly lifted off the decks and carried bodily away.
Extracted from "The Deep of the Sea" by Charles Edward Smith 1922