Solar Eclipse

Journal Excerpts

"...they were about to depart from their homes and those who were dear to them to undergo the hardships of the briny deep."

"Ten voluntary marines were sent on shore to guard the camp from wild beasts and savages."

"the sun became gradually dismantled of its red color, (it) was covered with a bright golden shade which turned the sky purple"

On Board the Pensacola--The Eclipse Expedition to the West Coast of Africa

by Albert Bergman (A Man Before the Mast)

New York, 1890

All of the Eclipse Expedition having arrived on board, and a large supply of provisions having already been stowed away, preparations were made to start on a long voyage. Accordingly, everything moveable was secured, to prevent rolling about when the vessel was put to sea. The morning of the departure, October 16th . . . we started out on our long trip to the West Coast of Africa to bring back information which has so long been looked forward for by the Scientific Department of the United States.

The morning was lovely, and the sun was seen rising over the city as we took our departure from the New York Navy Yard. Most of the crew were in high spirits, notwithstanding the consciousness that they were about to depart from their homes and those who were dear to them to undergo the hardships of the briny deep.

I shall never forget the impressions which our first landing on the beach of Cape Ledo made upon me. We lay on our oars in the swell just outside the surf, waiting for an opportunity to run in. Seeing how matters stood, we swung our boat with her bow on to the great comber which came rolling in . . . and at just that moment we gave four or five strong pulls, which sent the boat up on the beach, all the men immediately jumping out and running her up on the sand before the arrival of another breaker, which would probably have smashed her to pieces.

We left one man to watch the boat, and the rest of us strolled about the beach . . . . The professor also looked about for a favorable place upon which to erect his instruments. We perceived several tracks of wild animals along the beach, and on the trees were various kinds of birds: cockatoos, parrots, etc. The place is very barren and rocky, with no vegetation and no inhabitants. The heat during the day is intense, and the rain coming down in torrents leaves the air with a cold, damp atmosphere, which makes the climate very unhealthy.

On the morning of the 9th of December the work was commenced. In order to get all the instruments and houses safely on the beach we were obliged to carry them on our heads and in our arms to prevent their getting wet. Some of the instruments required from thirty to forty men to lift and carry. We were always to our waist in water while unloading.

Besides the force we had working on the boats, twenty to thirty sailors were detailed to work on shore under direction of Professor Bigelow, to dig ditches, build foundations, fitting instruments, artificial houses, etc. Another party was detailed under Lieutenant Heilner, to transport the stores to the Eclipse Station. Ten voluntary marines were sent on shore to guard the camp from wild beasts and savages. The latter were found to be plenty.

On the 21st of December the apparatus was in readiness for the eclipse. Professor Todd, in charge of the Eclipse Expedition, had placed Professor Bigelow in charge of the direct photo-heliograph, which was nearly forty feet in length, and detailed Mr. Davis as his assistant, and Mr. Jacoby was intrusted with the charge of time determination, a longitude and latitude work. Professor Abbe was in charge of the meterological [sic] work and of the organization of parties of observers from the ship's company. The mounting and adjustment of the extensive apparatus for the total eclipse Professor Todd reserved for himself.

Sunday morning, the 22nd of December, heavy clouds were sweeping over the sun to the disappointment of our scientists, and the hours of the eclipse approaching rapidly. Having landed the professor, we prepared for sea. At 11 A.M. anchor was weighed, and we steamed out to sea, and stood in the center of the eclipse track at the time of totality. On account of the cloudy sky around Cape Ledo the facilities for observing the total eclipse were doubtful. At 1 p.m. the "Pensacola" was a distance of thirty-six miles from land. The clouds dispersed, which gave us a splendid opportunity to view the eclipse through smoked glass, which we all provided ourselves with.

About fifteen minutes before the beginning of the eclipse the sun became gradually dismantled of its red color, was covered with a bright golden shade which turned the sky purple around it, and the dark clouds were embroidered with silver from the reflection of the sun's rays. This beautiful panorama was only visible for a few minutes, and as it vanished from our sight the sun took on a feverish appearance.

At 3 P.M. the corona had begun, but it could not be observed owing to the clouds; the sun had lost its power, the moon having drawn its frigid veil over it and the sky. During the prevailing darkness the barometer fell ten degrees, the sky became a dark blue, and the black clouds beneath changed into purity. The amazing picture produced a silence through the ship. When the sun appeared again it brought joy to us all. It now appeared with a beautiful golden ring on its border, while the center was dark.

At 3:30 P.M. the ship was put about for the shore of Cape Ledo; the sun had then gradually begun to lose it vivid colors, and by 4 P.M. the picture panorama vanished from our sight for another three years, when it will be observed on the coast of Brazil.

The following morning the English expedition left Cape Ledo, and as they steamed out we gave them a parting cheer. A scientific game of base-ball was played on shore, and was witnessed by a number of savages, upon whom it made a very amusing impression. On the morning of the 27th of December the last stores came aboard, and at 2 P.M. anchor was weighed. In a few hours the wilderness of Cape Ledo was far astern.

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