A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 9

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A Voyage to the South Sea by William Bligh
Chapter 9

A Walk into the Country. The Peeah Roah. Prevailed on by the Kindness of the Chiefs to defer our Departure. Breadfruit Plants collected. Move the Ship to Toahroah Harbour. Fishing. Three of the Ship's Company desert. Indiscretion of our People on Shore. Instances of Jealousy. Mourning. Bull brought to Oparre by a Prophet. The Deserters recovered. Tinah proposes to visit England.

1788. December. Wednesday 17.

This morning I took a walk into the country accompanied by Nelson and my old friend Moannah. The breadth of the border of low land before we arrived at the foot of the hills was near three miles. This part of our journey was through a delightful country, well covered with breadfruit and coconut-trees, and strewed with houses in which were swarms of children. We then proceeded along a valley, still among houses, with plantations of yams, tarro, the cloth-plant, and their favourite root the Ava: there were breadfruit trees on the sides of the hills which were dwarfs in comparison of those on the low land. Our walk was very much interrupted by a river, the course of which was so serpentine that we had to cross it several times, being carried over on men's shoulders.

On arriving at a Morai I saw a number of the natives collected and was informed that the priests were performing their devotions. Sixteen men were sitting on their heels; in the front was a pole covered with a plaited coconut branch, and before each of the men there was a number of small pieces of the same leaf plaited, which they call Hahyree, and each had likewise a piece round his wrist. One who appeared to be the chief priest prayed aloud, and was answered by all the rest together: after a few short sentences and responses they rose and each carried an Hahyree, which they placed at the foot of the pole and returned to prayer: this was repeated till all the Hahyree were delivered and then the ceremony ended. I must not forget to mention that they had placed near the pole an offering of plantains and breadfruit, which they left for the Eatua. They very kindly asked us to partake of a roasted hog that had been prepared for them whilst they were praying; but as I wished to make the most of the morning before the sun was too high I declined their offer, and Moannah bespoke refreshments to be ready for us when we returned.

We continued our walk up the valley, which became very narrow, and had advanced a considerable way beyond all the houses and plantations when we were suddenly stopped by a cascade that fell into the river from a height of above 200 feet: the fall at this time was not great but in the heavy rains must be considerable. The natives look upon this as the most wonderful sight in the island. The fall of water is the least curious part; the cliff over which it comes is perpendicular, forming an appearance as if supported by square pillars of stone, and with a regularity that is surprising. Underneath is a pool eight or nine feet deep into which the water falls; and in this place all the natives make a point of bathing once in their lives, probably from some religious idea.

The hills here approach each other within a few yards and are well covered with wood. As the road appeared difficult I did not care to proceed towards the mountain. I cannot with certainty say how far this curious precipice is from the bay, but think in the road by which we went it cannot be less than seven miles. It is called Peeah Roah.

In our return we found a young pig prepared for us and we made a hearty meal. We dined in the house of an old acquaintance of Nelson's for whom he had in 1777 planted the two shaddock plants formerly mentioned which he had brought from the Friendly Islands. These we had the satisfaction to see were grown to fine trees and full of fruit.

In their plantations they do not take much pains except with the Ava and the Cloth-plant, both of which they are careful to keep clear of weeds. Many of the plantations of the cloth-plant were fenced with stone and surrounded with a ditch. The yams and plantains are mostly on the higher grounds. As soon as we had finished our dinner we returned towards the ship. I was much delighted in this walk with the number of children that I saw in every part of the country: they are very handsome and sprightly and full of antic tricks. They have many diversions that are common with the boys in England such as flying kites, cats cradle, swinging, dancing or jumping in a rope, walking upon stilts and wrestling.

Friday 19.

The wind today blew fresh but continued regular from the east and east-south-east. We had likewise much rain and a long swell set into the bay. I had not yet determined whether, on leaving Matavai bay, I would go to the island Eimeo or to the harbour of Toahroah near Oparre: this uncertainty made Tinah and the rest of my friends very anxious; and they appeared much distressed on my desiring them this afternoon to send on board all the things which they wished to have repaired by the forge without delay, that what they wanted might be done before the ship left Matavai, which I told them would be in a few days. They very earnestly entreated I would stay one month longer. I represented this as impossible and asked Tinah if he would not go with me to Eimeo; but he said that notwithstanding my protection he was certain the Eimeo people would watch for an opportunity to kill him. He remained on board with me all night but his wife went on shore and returned early in the morning, bringing with her some axes and other things that were in need of repair.

Saturday 20.

When I went on shore I found Otow, Oberree-roah, Moannah, and several others in great tribulation at the thoughts that we were so soon to leave them. All the people of Matavai I saw were much concerned at my intention of going to Eimeo, and took every opportunity to prejudice me against the people of that island; to which I paid very little attention as their motive was obvious.

Sunday 21.

Their expressions of friendship and affection for me however I could not disregard, as I had no doubt of their being genuine and unaffected, and I felt my unwillingness to leave these kind people so much increased that the next day I sent the master in the launch to reexamine the depth of water between this bay and Toahroah harbour. He returned in the evening and acquainted me that he found a good bottom with not less than sixteen fathoms depth all the way. The harbour of Toahroah appearing every way safe I determined to get the ship there as speedily as possible, and I immediately made my intention public, which occasioned great rejoicing.

Wednesday 24.

This day we took the plants on board, being 774 pots, all in a healthy state; for whenever any plant had an unfavourable appearance it was replaced by another. The number of those rejected was 302, of which not one in ten but was found to be growing at the root.

The natives reckon eight kinds of the breadfruit tree, each of which they distinguish by a different name. 1. Patteah. 2. Eroroo. 3. Awanna. 4. Mi-re. 5. Oree. 6. Powerro. 7. Appeere. 8. Rowdeeah. In the first, fourth, and eighth class the leaf differs from the rest; the fourth is more sinuated; the eighth has a large broad leaf not at all sinuated. The difference of the fruit is principally in the first and eighth class. In the first the fruit is rather larger and more of an oblong form: in the eighth it is round and not above half the size of the others. I enquired if plants could be produced from the seed and was told they could not but that they must be taken from the root. The plants are best collected after wet weather, at which time the earth balls round the roots and they are not liable to suffer by being moved.

The most common method of dividing time at Otaheite is by moons; but they likewise make a division of the year into six parts, each of which is distinguished by the name of the kind of breadfruit then in season. In this division they keep a small interval called Tawa in which they do not use the breadfruit. This is about the end of February when the fruit is not in perfection; but there is no part of the year in which the trees are entirely bare.

Thursday 25.

At daylight we unmoored and I sent the tents in the launch to Oparre with directions that, after landing them, the launch should meet the ship in the entrance of Toahroah harbour to show the safest part of the channel. At half-past ten we got the ship under sail and ran down under top-sails: when we were near the launch it fell calm and the ship shot past her. We immediately let the anchor go but to our great surprise we found the ship was aground forwards. She had run on so easy that we had not perceived it at the time. This accident occasioned us much trouble as we were obliged to send anchors out astern to get the ship afloat: in doing this one of the cables swept a rock and was not got clear again without much difficulty. When the ship was moored Point Venus bore north 46 degrees east. The east point of the harbour north 65 degrees east one-quarter of a mile. Our distance from the shore half a cable's length; depth of water 8 1/2 fathoms.

Friday 26.

The next morning on my landing I was welcomed by all the principal people; I may say by the whole crowd, and congratulated on the safety of the ship. Tinah showed me a house near the waterside abreast the ship, which he desired I would make use of and which was large enough for all our purposes. He and his brother Oreepyah then desired I would stay and receive a formal address and present which they called Otee. To this I assented and a stool was brought for me to sit on. They then left me with Moannah and in a short time I saw Tinah returning with about twenty men who all made a stop at some distance, and a priest said a short prayer to the Eatua, to which the rest made reply. A man was then sent to me three several times, at each time bringing me a small pig and the stem of a plantain leaf. The first they told me was for the God of Brittannee, the next for King George, and the last for myself. Moannah then got up and, without being dictated to, made an oration for me; the purport of which I understood to be that I received their offering with thanks; that we were good people and friends; and therefore he exhorted them to commit no thefts: he told them to bring their pigs, coconuts, and breadfruit, and they would receive good things in return; that we took nothing without their consent; and finally that every man was to quit the place (the house we occupied) at night; for if they made any visit in the dark they would be killed. With this speech the ceremony ended.

I found this a delightful situation and in every respect convenient. The ship was perfectly sheltered by the reefs in smooth water and close to a fine beach without the least surf. A small river with very good water runs into the sea about the middle of the harbour. I gave directions for the plants to be landed and the same party to be with them as at Matavai. Tinah fixed his dwelling close to our station.

Monday 29.

Some of the natives took advantage of the butcher's negligence and stole his cleaver. I complained of this to the chiefs who were on board and they promised that they would endeavour to recover it; but an article so valuable as this was to the natives I had no great expectation of seeing restored.

The ship continued to be supplied by the natives as usual. Coconuts were in such plenty that I believe not a pint of water was drunk on board the ship in the twenty-four hours. Breadfruit began to be scarce though we purchased without difficulty a sufficient quantity for our consumption: there was however another harvest approaching which they expected would be fit for use in five or six weeks. The better kind of plantains also were become scarce; but a kind which they call vayhee were in great plenty. This fruit does not hang on the trees like the other kinds but grows upon an upright stalk of considerable strength and substance. Though this plantain is inferior in quality to most of the others it affords great subsistence to the natives. We received almost every day presents of fish, chiefly dolphin and albacore, and a few small rock fish. Their fishing is mostly in the night when they make strong lights on the reefs which attract the fish to them. Sometimes in fine weather the canoes are out in such numbers that the whole sea appears illuminated. In the canoes they fish with hook and line and on the reefs they struck the fish with a spear. Some likewise carry out small nets which are managed by two men. In the daytime their fishing canoes go without the reefs, sometimes to a considerable distance, where they fish with rods and lines and catch bonetas and other fish. Whenever there is a show of fish a fleet of canoes immediately proceeds to sea. Their hooks being bright are used without bait in the manner of our artificial flies. Their rods are made of bamboo; but when there are any very large fish they make use of an outrigger over the fore part of the canoe, about twenty-five feet in length, which has two prongs at the extremity, to each of which is fastened a hook and line; and when a fish takes the hook it is raised by ropes managed by two men in the stern of the canoe.

January 1789. Thursday 1.

Contrary to my expectation Tinah this afternoon brought on board the cleaver that had been stolen. The thief had taken it to Attahooroo, and Tinah told me, which I could easily believe, that it was given up with reluctance.

Friday 2.

The next morning I offered Tinah a present of axes and other things but, as he suspected this was meant by way of return for getting the cleaver restored, he would not be prevailed with to accept a single article.

I had constantly the company of Tinah, his wife, and some of his relations; but the royal children, though so near us, never came in sight of the ship. The river separated them from the place occupied by our people on shore and, for fear of giving alarm or offence, I gave strict orders that no one should attempt to go near their place of residence.

Monday 5.

At the relief of the watch at four o'clock this morning the small cutter was missing. I was immediately informed of it and mustered the ship's company, when it appeared that three men were absent: Charles Churchill, the ship's corporal and two of the seamen, William Musprat and John Millward, the latter of whom had been sentinel from twelve to two in the morning. They had taken with them eight stand of arms and ammunition; but what their plan was, or which way they had gone, no one on board seemed to have the least knowledge. I went on shore to the chiefs and soon received information that the boat was at Matavai; and that the deserters had departed in a sailing canoe for the island Tethuroa. On this intelligence I sent the master to Matavai to search for the small cutter, and one of the chiefs went with him; but before they had got halfway they met the boat with five of the natives who were bringing her back to the ship. This service rendered me by the people of Matavai pleased me much and I rewarded the men accordingly.

I told Tinah and the other chiefs that I expected they would get the deserters brought back; for that I was determined not to leave Otaheite without them. They assured me that they would do everything in their power to have them taken and it was agreed that Oreepyah and Moannah should depart the next morning for Tethuroa. Oreepyah enquired if they had pocket pistols "for," said he, "though we may surprise and seize them before they can make use of their muskets, yet if they have pistols they may do mischief, even while they are held." I quietened these apprehensions by assuring them that the deserters had no pistols with them.

Tuesday 6.

At daylight Oreepyah and Moannah set off in two canoes for Tethuroa, but the weather became so boisterous that they were obliged to return in the forenoon, and I was happy to see them get safe in as the sea ran very high without the harbour. From the first of this month the weather and winds had been much unsettled with a great deal of rain. Our former station at Matavai appeared not at all safe, the sea at times breaking high over the Dolphin bank and making a great swell in the bay. Oreepyah and Moannah both promised me that they would sail again as soon as the weather should be fine.

Friday 9.

The wind continued to blow strong at sea though in the harbour we had at times but light breezes. Poeeno, from Matavai, came to see me today: he said he was apprehensive that I was displeased with him on account of our deserters having been carried to Tethuroa by a canoe from Matavai. This he declared had been done before he heard of it; and that the only service in his power he had not neglected to do for me, which was the sending our boat back. As this was really an act of friendship I received him with great cordiality; and he assured me that there could be no doubt from the directions Tinah had given of the deserters being brought to the ship as soon as the weather would admit canoes to go after them.

Saturday 10.

One of the officers this morning on shore inadvertently plucked a branch from a tree called Tutuee, that bears the oil nut, which was growing at a Morai. On entering with it into the house occupied by our people all the natives, both men and women, immediately went away. When I went on shore I found this branch tied to one of the posts of the house, although the effect it had on the natives was known. I was much displeased at this piece of wantonness and ordered the branch to be taken away; but the natives notwithstanding would not come near the place. They said the house was taboo, which I understand to signify interdicted, and that none of them might approach it till the taboo was taken off, which could only be done by Tinah. To take anything away from a Morai is regarded as a kind of sacrilege and, they believe, gives great offence to the Eatua. At my request Tinah took off the taboo, but not before the afternoon. This was performed by an offering of a plantain leaf at the Morai, and a prayer made to the Eatua. After this ceremony the house was resorted to by the natives as usual.

I had not yet given up the hope of obtaining the bull from Itteah, though I had hitherto received no satisfactory answer to the messages which Tinah had sent at my desire: I therefore spoke to Poeeno who undertook to negotiate this business, and I commissioned him to make very liberal offers. He left me after dinner to return to Matavai. In the evening a messenger arrived from him to acquaint me that, in his absence, the sheep which I had trusted to his care had been killed by a dog; and that he had sent the culprit, hoping that I would kill him for the offence he had committed. This poor sheep had been so much diseased that I could not help suspecting he died without the dog's assistance, and that the story of the dog was invented to prevent my attributing it to want of care. This doubt did not appear in my answer; as for the dog I told the messenger to do with him what he pleased.

Tuesday 13.

This morning, the weather being more moderate than it had been for some days past, Oreepyah sailed with two canoes for Tethuroa.

Wednesday 14.

Some business prevented Moannah from accompanying him but he followed the next day with two other canoes. The wood that we had got at Matavai being expended I applied to Tinah, who sent three trees down to the waterside before night, which when cut up made a good launch load.

I saw two instances of jealousy today one of which had nearly produced fatal consequences. A man was detected with a married woman by the husband, who stabbed him in the belly with a knife: fortunately the intestines escaped and the wound did not prove dangerous. The other instance was a girl, who had constantly lived with my coxswain, beating another girl that she discovered to have been too intimate with him.

Friday 16.

In walking today with Tinah near a tupapow I was surprised by a sudden outcry of grief. As I expressed a desire to see the distressed person Tinah took me to the place where we found a number of women, one of whom was the mother of a young female child that lay dead. On seeing us their mourning not only immediately ceased, but to my astonishment they all burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, and while we remained appeared much diverted with our visit. I told Tinah the woman had no sorrow for her child otherwise her grief would not have so easily subsided; on which he jocosely told her to cry again: they did not however resume their mourning in our presence. This strange behaviour would incline us to think them hardhearted and unfeeling, did we not know that they are fond parents and in general very affectionate: it is therefore to be ascribed to their extreme levity of disposition; and it is probable that death does not appear to them with so many terrors as it does to people of a more serious cast.

Sunday 18.

I received a message from Poeeno to acquaint me that he had been successful in his negotiation for the bull, which he had driven part of the way by land, but could not get farther on account of the rivers and therefore desired a boat should be sent for him. I accordingly ordered the launch to be got ready and at two o'clock the next morning Mr. Fryer, the master, set off in her.

Monday 19.

In the afternoon the launch returned with the bull and my friend Poeeno. For the night I directed that the bull should remain at Oparre and the next day he was taken to the cow at Matavai.

Wednesday 21.

Today Poeeno brought to me the person from whom he had the bull to receive the stipulated payment, which was one of every article of traffic that I had in my possession. This man, whose name was Oweevee, they told me was inspired by a divine spirit; and that in all matters of consequence he was consulted, for that he conversed with the Eatua. It was, they said, the Eatua that ordered him to demand the bull from Tinah, which not to have complied with would have been the height of impiety. I endeavoured to convince them of the roguery of this man, thinking I had a fair argument to prove it by his selling that which the Eatua had ordered him to keep; but here I was easily defeated for it seems the Eatua told him to sell me the beast. This being the case I said I would not give the animals to any person; that they were now mine and that I would leave them under the protection of Poeeno and Tinah who I hoped would take care of them for me till I returned. They both entered into my views and promised the animals should be attended to, and told me that, while they were considered as my property, no one would attempt to take them away.

Thursday 22.

This afternoon I received a message from Teppahoo to inform me that our deserters had passed this harbour and were at Tettaha, about five miles distant. I ordered the cutter to be got ready, and a little before sunset left the ship, taking Oedidee with me. By his advice I landed at some distance from the place where the deserters were but, thinking it necessary to have the boat within call, and Oedidee assuring me that there was safe landing farther on, I directed the boat to proceed along shore whilst Oedidee and I walked along the beach. The night was very dark and windy and the shore being rocky I soon lost sight of the boat. A few of the natives had joined us in our walk and from their manner I had reason to suspect them of a design to close upon us, with an intention no doubt to plunder: I was provided with pocket-pistols and on producing one they left us. Oedidee was so much alarmed that I could scarce prevail on him to proceed. When we arrived at Teppahoo's house we were very kindly received by him and his wife. The cutter was arrived but there being a very high surf she could not come within a hundred yards of the shore.

The deserters I was informed were in a house close to us, and I imagined there would be no great difficulty in securing them with the assistance of the natives. They had however heard of my arrival; and when I was near the house they came out without their arms and delivered themselves up. I sent directions off to the boat for one of my people to come on shore and for the boat to return to the place where I had landed. My next business was to secure the arms, which I delivered to Teppahoo to take charge of for the night. One musket and two bayonets were missing, which they said were lost by the canoe in which they came from Tethuroa having overset. I then took leave of Teppahoo who presented us with a plentiful supply of provisions, and we proceeded with the deserters towards the boat but, as the wind had increased and it rained hard, I determined to remain on shore till the morning; and having found shelter for the people we passed the remainder of the night without accident. At daylight I sent for the arms and we returned to the ship.

Friday 23.

I learnt from the deserters that at Tethuroa they had seen Oreepyah and Moannah, who had made an attempt to secure them. They said it was their intention to have returned to the ship; and it is probable that they were so much harassed by the natives watching for an opportunity to surprise them that they might wish to have the merit of returning of their own accord, to avoid the disgrace of being seized and brought back. At the time they delivered themselves up to me it was not in their power to have made resistance, their ammunition having been spoiled by the wet.

In consequence of my having been kept all night from the ship by the tempestuous weather the timekeeper went down at 10 hours 5 minutes 36 seconds. Its rate previous to this was 1 second, 7 losing in 24 hours, and its error from the mean time at Greenwich was 7 minutes 29 seconds, 2 too slow. I set it going again by a common watch, corrected by observations, and endeavoured to make the error the same as if it had not stopped; but being over cautious made me tedious in setting it in motion, and increased the error from mean time at Greenwich. The rate of going I did not find to have altered.

At dinner Tinah congratulated me on having recovered my men, but expressed some concern that they had not been brought by Oreepyah and Moannah, lest I should imagine they had not done everything in their power. To this I replied that I was perfectly satisfied of their good intentions to serve me, and that I considered myself under great obligations to them for the trouble they had been at on my account. I learnt afterwards that they had actually seized and bound the deserters but had been prevailed upon, by fair promises of their returning peaceably to the ship, to let them loose: the deserters however, finding an opportunity to get possession of their arms, again set the natives at defiance.

Friday 30.

This afternoon I punished one of the seamen, Isaac Martin, with nineteen lashes for striking an Indian. This was a transgression of so serious a nature and such a direct violation of my orders that I would on no account be prevailed on to forgive it, though great intercession was made by some of the chiefs.

Oreepyah and Moannah were not yet returned from Tethuroa. This place is resorted to by the principal people of this part of Otaheite at particular seasons when fish are in great plenty there. It was described to me to be a group of small keys surrounded by a reef: their produce is chiefly coconuts and plantains. During the season breadfruit and other provisions are daily carried over from Otaheite. Not less than a hundred sail of canoes were at Tethuroa when our deserters were there.

Teppahoo and his wife were become my constant visitors: he had for some time past been ill, and had made Oparre his place of residence for the benefit of our surgeon's advice and assistance. At this time he complained of a hoarseness and sore throat. Mr. Ledward, on examining him, discovered there had been two holes in the roof of his mouth which, though healed, had the appearance of having been large: the adjacent parts appeared sound, yet the surgeon was of opinion that they were cancerous and would in the end occasion his death.

Saturday 31.

This morning I ordered all the chests to be taken on shore, and the inside of the ship to be washed with boiling water to kill the cockroaches. We were constantly obliged to be at great pains to keep the ship clear of vermin on account of the plants. By the help of traps and good cats we were freed from rats and mice. When I was at Otaheite with Captain Cook there were great numbers of rats about all the houses, and so tame that they flocked round the people at their meals for the offals which were commonly thrown to them; but at this time we scarce ever saw a rat which must be attributed to the industry of a breed of cats left here by European ships.

After breakfast I walked with Tinah to Matavai to see the cattle and the gardens. Tinah had already taken so large a dose of the Ava that he was perfectly stupefied. Iddeah however was with us, and she is one of the most intelligent persons I met with at Otaheite. We went first to Poeeno's house and saw the bull and cow together in a very fine pasture. I was informed that the cow had taken the bull; so that if no untoward accident happens there is a fair chance of the breed being established. In the garden near Poeeno's house many things had failed. The Indian corn was in a fine state and I have no doubt but they will cultivate it all over the country. A fig-tree was in a very thriving way, as were two vines, a pineapple plant, and some slips of a shaddock-tree. From this place we walked to the garden at Point Venus, but I had the mortification to find almost everything there destroyed by the hogs. Some underground peas and Indian corn had escaped, and likewise the caliloo green and ocra of Jamaica.

We returned to the ship, and after dinner I was not a little surprised to hear Tinah seriously propose that he and his wife should go with me to England. He said he would only take two servants; that he much wished to see King George who he was sure would be glad to see him. Tinah and many of his countrymen were become extremely eager to get a knowledge of other countries, and were continually enquiring about the situations of the islands which we told them of in these seas. To quiet his importunity I was obliged to promise that I would ask the king's permission to carry them to England if I came again; that then I should be in a larger ship an could have accommodations properly fitted up. I was sorry to find that Tinah was apprehensive he should be attacked by his enemies as soon as our ship left Otaheite, and that if they joined they would be too powerful for him. The illness of Teppahoo, with whom he was on good terms, gave him much uneasiness, Teppahoo's wife being a sister of Otow's and aunt to Tinah. They have no children as has been before related, and if Teppahoo were to die he would be succeeded as Earee of the district of Tettaha by his brother who is an enemy to Tinah. I have on every occasion endeavoured to make the principal people believe that we should return again to Otaheite and that we should revenge any injury done in our absence to the people of Matavai and Oparre.

The wife of Oedidee is likewise an aunt to Tinah, and sister to Otow. His native place is Ulietea, where he has some property, but which I imagine is not of such consequence to him as the countenance of the chiefs with whom he is connected at Otaheite.