My ancestor Henry Morse Olmsted made two voyages to China in 1840 and 1843, and the second run convinced him never to round the Cape of Good Hope again. He was not a mariner but sailed as owner's supercargo on board a China trader, and his logbook is filled with sensitive observations of incidents at sea. He delighted in the southern stars, the pelagic seabirds, and the bioluminescence that seemed to set the sea afire in the wake of the ship. His entry from July 5, 1843, however, notes few of of these aesthetic considerations, for their passage around the southern tip of Africa truly lived up to its sobriquet: "The Cape of Storms."
"I shall ever remember the 4th of July 1843. It was spent off the Cape of Good Hope in the Barque Childe Harold, a violent gale of wind howling at the time with an awful high sea running. It had been agreed between the friends at home and those at sea to drink each other's health at the same hour on this day. 9 o'clock in the evening corresponded with the time fixed upon on shore viz 2 1/2 o'clock. Accordingly we sat down to drink Champagne. Mr. T the Captain and myself in the cabin and Mrs T lying in her birth joining us in our hilarity there. Whilst laughing and talking, the ship being under close reef and topsails, staysail and spanker, a sea struck the Childe a little forward of the main rigging, starting the stanchions of the monkey sail and splitting some of the sections of the sail. The sea flew into Mr. Ames room, wetting him in his bed, filled the steward's pantry knee deep and flooded the floor of the Cabin. This broke up our party - swabs and buckets were in demand - and the watch busy cleaning up. Altho' a violent gale was raging, the night was a beautiful one, the moon and stars shining with great brilliancy.
The vessel during the night was kept close to the wind, in order to bring the sea upon the bow as much as possible. At 5 o'clock in the morning whilst under this short sail, a ship crossed our stern steering S.E. with close reefed fore and mizzen and double reefed main, reefed courses and staysails. Johnson could not stand that, so he set reefed for and mainsail and followed after. We passed him - he showed English colors which we replied to by showing ours - he is now / 11 o'clock / in sight far off on the larboard quarter. I asked the Captain this morning if he was not afraid last night of being washed overboard whilst asleep in the house on deck, which was expected all this morning. His reply was characteristic of a sailor. 'If the house is washed away', said he,' we will have a ship of our own to go to sea in.'
Henry, the best man in the ship, says he will never be caught off this Cape again in such a flytrap. The craft behaves very well, but her lee sail is in the water if a heavy sea rolls under her and the water is knee deep in the scuppers. I wonder if the author of the song which says ' Calm and peaceful is my sleep / Rocked in the cradle of the deep' was ever rocked in such a cradle of wind. My disgust to the sea is every day becoming greater, and when I do double the Cape homeward bound it shall be in the summer season and in a fine, large, comfortable ship and not such a flying fish as this is. I am very wakeful during bad weather and last night I got up and trimmed the lamp in the cabin, went on deck, looked at the barometer, etc. I am also moving about now / 11 o'clock / because the weather is moderating and the sea subsiding. They have loosed the jib and are letting the reef out of the foresail to keep her kicking as long as possible. 'Who wouldn't sell a farm & go to sea.'"
Uncle Henry was a sensitive soul and prone to seasickness. He was also extremely well read. The lines of poetry he recalls are from Emma (Hart) Willard's Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep, while his final quotation is the nautical equivalent of "selling out and getting the hell out of Dodge." Indeed, Henry M. Olmsted chose to return home overland from Canton China when his time was done and make a short Atlantic crossing rather than face the Cape of Storms in an awkward boat once more.