I was awakened by 4 in the morning by the Captain calling to us to rise and see “land, land!” The land to the North West of us was covered with snow and extending along the sea for considerable distance – high, rugged cliffs that put in mind the Crags of Gaurie in appearance. We have been only about 18 days without seeing land. I am told where we are sailing today this same vessel, the “Home” was ice bound for a month last year. There were eight Glasgow ships tied up with the ice for nearly two months last year not very far from the place we are sailing today.
There was more land made its appearance to the south of us called St Paul’s Island*. We are out of the Atlantic today and in the Gulph of St Lawrence. It is three weeks since we left Glasgow. How short to look back to it, time files on, how needful to improve it to advantage so that we may not have to look back upon it when we come to leave this “passing show” with sorrow and anguish of heart.
*St Paul Island is off the northern tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Foggy conditions and rocky cliffs have, over the years, claimed about 350 ships, earning the island the nickname “Graveyard of the Gulf”. One year after Peter Porterfield passed this spot, 82 people lost their lives in a shipwreck on the rocks of St Paul Island as described in this NY Times article published in June 1856.
Toward afternoon a ship came down to us before we were aware as we could not see very far because of mist. She was a passenger ship named the ‘Rose of Plymouth” bound for Quebec. Her Captain and our one spoke to each other from a distance of 20-30 yards. He told us he saw land this morning but had turned back as he thought he was taking the wrong woad. Our captain though we were right, on the other hand. About 4 o’clock the mist cleared off and we saw, not at a great distance, a long range of rocky cliffs extending along the sea coast and a great deal of woods back from that all covered with snow. I can now say that I have seen part of North America but, dear me, what I have seen appears to be very cold!
About 7 in the evening a Wherry boat with a number of pilots on her came along side of us and one of them came on board our ship and will, in the course of a day or two, take command of our vessel until we get to Quebec. He is a French Canadian and has wintered at a place called Green Island. He told us that he had spoken to a vessel which sailed 15 days before us from Glasgow and she was not 3 hours ahead of us hwhich shows we have been favoured with a good passage as yet.
“Tacking” today – that is going awhile as far as we can safely and then turning the ship about and got for a while in the other direction but al the while e making for our desired haven as fast as we can. The Captain again spoke to “The Rose” from Plymouth. The had been 5 weeks at sea already and is just lacking bout like ourselves. This afternoon is very calm, hardly a breath of wind, the water like a sheet of glass with the sun shining brightly. I don’t think I ever saw anything more beautiful than the scene around us tonight. Everything is so quiet and the water so smooth. About 4 o’clock two large whales were seen near the ship.
May 13 Sunday
A most beautiful morning, not a cloud in the firmament to be seen. We are now in the St Lawrence and expect to make the harbour of Quebec in the course of 2 or 3 days. About 9 o’clock we came in sight of a lighthouse to the northeast of us. It was quite dark and the light had a good appearance. Shortly after that a vessel, a brig, was observed bearing down on us to the windward. In a short time she was almost along side of us and as the wind was still very high, our captain was afraid that she would come in contact with our vessel. After sailing along side of us for awhile she got clear of us, being a lighter vessel.
This is my fourth, and to all appearances, my last Sabbath for sometime at see if we get on as we expect to do. We can not be too thankful for being so highly favoured with a quiet passage. Last spring, I believe the average number of days for each emigrant ship that sailed for Quebec was 49 days. I have seen a great deal of strange sights since I left Marnoch and well may I say with the Psalmist, David “O, Lord, how manifold are thy works, in wisdom has thou made them all, the earth is full of thy riches so is this great and wide sea, etc. Psalm 104, verses 24 etc.*
*The bible in these photographs belonged to Maud Code Porterfield (1879-1976) – Peter’s daughter-in-law. My brother and I knew her as a dear little old lady with a shaky voice who lived with her sister in Wingham, Ontario. Her sister, Sadie, was Alice Munro’s grandmother. I have a clock belonging to Aunt Maud and my middle name, Alex, is after her husband, Alex Porterfield, a favourite uncle of my Dad’s.
Alice Munro, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, describes Aunt Maud and Uncle Alex to a tee in her somewhat autobiographical book, The View from Castle Rock, calling them Aunt Charlie and Uncle Cyril. Aunt Maud and Aunt Sadie appear in many other Alice Munro short stories as well.
In the 1920 photo below, Alex is on the left, Aunt Maud on the step looking sideways, my grandparents, Ernest and Mary, are the thin man next to Alex and the woman standing by the older woman and the old lady in the rocking chair is Mary Stevenson Porterfield, Peter’s wife. I think the man in the middle is William Porterfield, a brother visiting from Calgary. And in a Where’s Waldo moment, my Dad, Stewart Porterfield Geddes is in a pram on the porch to the left of Aunt Maud!