The Swiss Family Robinson

Author: Johann Wyss  | Date: 1813


Useful Occupations and Labours Embellishments-

A painful but natural Sentiment

ON THE FOLLOWING day, my wife and the boys importuned me to begin my manufactory of candles: I therefore set myself to recollect all I had read on the subject. I soon perceived that I should be at a loss for a little fat to mix with the wax I had procured from the berries, for making the light burn clearer; but I was compelled to proceed without. I put as many berries into a vessel as it would contain, and set it on a moderate fire; my wife in the meantime employed herself in making some wicks with the threads of sail-cloth. When we saw an oily matter, of a pleasing smell and light-green colour, rise to the top of the liquid the berries had yielded, we carefully skimmed it off and put it into a separate vessel, taking care to keep it warm. We continued this process till the berries were exhausted, and had produced a considerable quantity of wax; we next dipped the wicks one by one into it, while it remained liquid, and then hung them on the bushes to harden: in a short time we dipped them again, and repeated the operation till the candles were increased to the proper size, and they were then put in a place and kept till sufficiently hardened for use. We, however, were all eager to judge of our success that very evening, by burning one of the candles, with which we were well satisfied. In consequence of this new treasure, we should now be able to sit up later, and consequently spend less of our time in sleep; but independently of this advantage, the mere sight of a candle, which for so long a time we had been deprived of, caused ecstasies of joy to all.

Our success in this last enterprise encouraged us to think of another, the idea of which had long been cherished by our kind steward of provisions; it was to make fresh butter of the cream we every day skimmed from the milk, and which was frequently, to her great vexation, spoiled and given to the animals. The utensil we stood in need of was a churn, to turn the cream in. Having earnestly applied my thoughts as to the best manner of conquering the difficulty, I suddenly recollected what I had read about in a book of travels, of the method used by the Hottentots for making butter; but instead of a sheep-skin sewed together at its extremities, I emptied a large gourd, washed it clean, filled it again with cream, and stopped it close with the piece I had cut from the top. I placed my vase of cream on a piece of sail-cloth with four corners, and tied to each corner a stake. I placed one boy midway between each stake, and directed them to shake the cloth briskly, but with a steady measure, for a certain time. This exercise, which seemed like children’s play, pleased them mightily, and they called it rocking the cradle. They performed their office, singing and laughing all the time, and in an hour, on taking off the cover, we had the satisfaction of seeing some excellent butter. We heartily congratulated each other, and praised the workmen, who by their constancy of labour had thus produced a most agreeable article of food. I had now to propose to my sons a work of a more difficult nature than we had hitherto accomplished: it was the constructing a cart, in all its forms, for the better conveyance of our effects from place to place, instead of the sledge, which caused us so much fatigue to load and draw. Many reasons induced me to confine my attempt in the first instance to a two-wheel cart, and to observe the result before I ventured on one with four wheels. I tried earnestly and long to accomplish such a machine; but it did not entirely succeed to my wishes, and I wasted in the attempt both time and timber; I however produced what from courtesy we called a cart, and it answered the purpose for which it was designed.

When I had no occasion for the boys, they with their mother engaged in other useful matters. They undertook to transplant the European fruit-trees, to place them where they would be in a better situation for growth, according to the properties of each. They planted vine-shoots round the roots of the magnificent tree we inhabited, and round the trunks of some other kinds of trees which grew near; and we watched them, in the fond anticipation that they would in time ascend to a height capable of being formed into a sort of trellis, and help to cool us by their shade. Lastly, we planted two parallel lines of saplings, consisting of chestnut, cherry, and the common nut-tree, to form an avenue from Family Bridge to Falcon’s Stream, which would hereafter afford us a shaded walk to Tent House. This last undertaking was not to be effected without a degree of labour and fatigue the most discouraging:- the ground was to be cleared of everything it had produced, and a certain breadth covered with sand, left higher in the middle than on the sides, for the sake of being always dry. The boys fetched the sand from the sea-side in their wheel-barrows.

Our next concern was to introduce, if possible, some shade and other improvements on the barren site of Tent House, and to render our occasional abode or visits there more secure. We began by planting in a quincunx all those sorts of trees that thrive best in the sun, such as lemon, pistachio, almond, mulberry, and lime trees; lastly, some of a kind of orange-tree which attains to a prodigious size, and bears a fruit as large as the head of a child. The commoner sorts of nut-trees we placed along the shore. The better to conceal and fortify our tent, which enclosed all our stores, we formed on the accessible side a hedge of wild orange and lemon trees, which produce an abundant prickly foliage; and to add to the agreeableness of their appearance, we here and there interspersed the pomegranate: nor did I omit to make a little arbour of the guava shrub, which is easily raised from slips, and bears a small fruit rather pleasant to the taste. We also took care to introduce at proper places a certain number of the largest sorts of trees, which in time would serve the double purpose of shading annual plants, and, with benches placed under them, of a kind of private cabinet. Should any accident or alarm compel us to retire to the fortress of Tent House, a thing of the first importance would be to find there sufficient food for our cattle. For the greater security, I formed a plantation of the thorny fig-tree, of sufficient breadth to occupy the space between our fortress and the river, thus rendering it difficult for an enemy to approach.

The curving form of the river having left some partial elevations of the soil within the enclosure, I found means to work them into slopes and angles, so as to serve as bastions to our two cannon from the pinnace and our other fire-arms, should we ever be attacked by savages. When this was all complete, we perceived that one thing more was wanting, which was, to make such alterations in Family Bridge as would enable us to use it as a drawbridge, or to take it away entirely, this being the only point at which the passage of the river could be easily effected. But as we could not do all at once, we contented ourselves, for present safety, with taking away the first planks of the bridge at each end every time we passed it. My concluding labour was to plant some cedars along the usual landing-places, to which we might fasten our vessels.

We employed six whole weeks in effecting these laborious arrangements, and by this time we had nearly exhausted our stock of clothes, and we were compelled once more to have recourse to the vessel, which we knew still contained some chests fit for our use. To this motive we added an earnest desire to take another look at her, and, if practicable, to bring away a few pieces of cannon, which might be fixed on the new bastions at Tent House, and thus we should be prepared for the worst.

The first fine day I assembled my three eldest sons, and put my design into execution. We reached the wreck without any striking adventure, and found her still fixed between the rocks, but somewhat more shattered than when we had last seen her. We secured the chests of clothes, and whatever remained of ammunition-stores: powder, shot, and even such pieces of cannon as we could remove, while those that were too heavy we stripped of their wheels, which might be extremely useful.

But to effect our purpose it was necessary to spend several days in visits to the vessel, returning constantly in the evening, enriched with everything of a portable nature which the wreck contained; doors, windows, locks, bolts- nothing escaped our grasp: so that the ship was now entirely emptied, with the exception of the large cannon, and three or four immense copper caldrons. We by degrees contrived to tie the heaviest articles to two or three empty casks well pitched, which would thus be sustained above water. I supposed that the wind and tide would convey the beams and timbers ashore, and thus with little pains we should be possessed of a sufficient quantity of materials for erecting a building at some future time. When these measures were taken, I came to the resolution of blowing up the wreck. We accordingly prepared a cask of gunpowder, which we left on board for the purpose: we rolled it to the place most favourable for our views: we made a small opening in its side, and, at the moment of quitting the vessel, we inserted a piece of matchwood, which we lighted at the last moment. We then sailed with all possible expedition for Safety Bay, where we arrived in a short time. We could not, however, withdraw our thoughts from the wreck, and from the expected explosion, for a single moment. I had cut the match a sufficient length for us to hope that she would not go to pieces before dark. I proposed to my wife to have our supper carried to a little point of land from whence we had a view of her, and here we waited for the moment of her destruction with lively impatience.

About the time of nightfall, a majestic rolling sound, like thunder, accompanied by a column of fire and smoke, announced that the ship so awfully concerned with our peculiar destiny, which had brought us to our present abode in a desert, and furnished us there with such vast supplies for general comfort, was that instant annihilated, and withdrawn for ever from the face of man! At this moment, love for the country that gave us birth, that most powerful sentiment of the human heart, sunk with a new force into ours. The ship had disappeared for ever! Could we then form a hope ever to behold that country more? We had made a sort of jubilee of witnessing the spectacle: the boys had clapped their hands and skipped about in joyful expectation; but the noise was heard- the smoke and sparks were seen!- while the sudden change which took place in our minds could be compared only to the rapidity of these effects of our concerted scheme against the vessel. We all observed a mournful silence, and all rose, as it were by an impulse of mutual condemnation, and with our heads sinking on our bosoms, and our eyes cast upon the ground, we took the road to Tent House.

My wife was the only person who was sensible of motives for consolation in the distressing scene which had been passing; she was now relieved from all the cruel fears for our safety in our visits to a shattered wreck that was liable to fall to pieces during the time we were on board. From this moment she conceived a stronger partiality for our island and the modes of life we had adopted.

A night’s repose had in some measure relieved the melancholy of the preceding evening, and I went rather early in the morning, with the boys, to make further observations as to the effects of this remarkable event. We perceived in the water, and along the shore, abundant vestiges of the departed wreck; and amongst the rest, at a certain distance, the empty casks, caldrons, and cannon, all tied together and floating in a large mass upon the water. We jumped instantly into the pinnace, with the tub-boat fastened to it, and made a way towards them through the numberless pieces of timber, etc., that intervened, and in a little time reached the object of our search, which from its great weight moved slowly upon the waves. Fritz, with his accustomed readiness, flung some rope round two four-pounders, and contrived to fasten them to our barge; after which he secured also an enormous quantity of poles, laths, and other useful articles. With this rich booty we returned to land.

We performed three more trips for the purpose of bringing away more cannon, caldrons, fragments of masts, etc., all of which we deposited for present convenience in Safety Bay; and now began our most fatiguing operations,- the removing such numerous and heavy stores from the boats to Tent House. We separated the cannon and the caldrons from the tub-raft, and from each other, and left them in a place which was accessible for the sledge and the beasts of burden. With the help of the crow we succeeded in getting the caldrons upon the sledge, and in replacing the four wheels we had before taken from the cannon; and now found it easy to make the cow and the ass draw them.

The largest of the boilers or copper caldrons we found of the most essential use. We brought out all our barrels of gunpowder, and placed them on their ends in three separate groups, at a short distance from our tent; we dug a little ditch round the whole, to draw off the moisture from the ground, and then put one of the caldrons turned upside upon each, which completely answered the purpose of an outhouse. The cannon were covered with sail-cloth, and upon this we laid heavy branches of trees; the larger casks of gunpowder we prudently removed under a projecting piece of rock, and covered them with planks till we should have leisure for executing the plan of an ammunition store-house, about which we had all become extremely earnest.

We then fixed the next day for our departure to Falcon’s Nest, and set about the necessary preparations.


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Chicago: Johann Wyss, "19," The Swiss Family Robinson Original Sources, accessed March 30, 2023,

MLA: Wyss, Johann. "19." The Swiss Family Robinson, Original Sources. 30 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Wyss, J, '19' in The Swiss Family Robinson. Original Sources, retrieved 30 March 2023, from