A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 14

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Proceed in the Launch to the Island Tofoa. Difficulty in obtaining Supplies there. Treacherous Attack of the Natives. Escape to Sea and bear away for New Holland.

1789. April.

My first determination was to seek a supply of breadfruit and water at Tofoa, and afterwards to sail for Tongataboo, and there risk a solicitation to Poulaho the king to equip our boat and grant us a supply of water and provisions, so as to enable us to reach the East Indies.

The quantity of provisions I found in the boat was 150 pounds of bread, 16 pieces of pork, each piece weighing 2 pounds, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine, with 28 gallons of water, and four empty barrecoes.

Fortunately it was calm all the afternoon till about four o'clock, when we were so far to windward that, with a moderate easterly breeze which sprung up, we were able to sail. It was nevertheless dark when we got to Tofoa where I expected to land, but the shore proved to be so steep and rocky that we were obliged to give up all thoughts of it and keep the boat under the lee of the island with two oars, for there was no anchorage. Having fixed on this mode of proceeding for the night I served to every person half a pint of grog, and each took to his rest as well as our unhappy situation would allow.

Wednesday 29.

In the morning at dawn of day we rowed along shore in search of a landing-place, and about ten o'clock we discovered a cove with a stony beach at the north-west part of the island, where I dropped the grapnel within 20 yards of the rocks. A great surf ran on the shore but, as I was unwilling to diminish our stock of provisions, I landed Mr. Samuel and some others, who climbed the cliffs and got into the country to search for supplies. The rest of us remained at the cove, not discovering any other way into the country than that by which Mr. Samuel had proceeded. It was great consolation to me to find that the spirits of my people did not sink, notwithstanding our miserable and almost hopeless situation. Towards noon Mr. Samuel returned with a few quarts of water which he had found in holes; but he had met with no spring or any prospect of a sufficient supply in that particular, and had seen only the signs of inhabitants. As it was uncertain what might be our future necessities I only issued a morsel of bread and a glass of wine to each person for dinner.

I observed the latitude of this cove to be 19 degrees 41 minutes south. This is the north-west part of Tofoa, the north-westernmost of the Friendly Islands.

The weather was fair but the wind blew so strong from the east-south-east that we could not venture to sea. Our detention made it absolutely necessary to endeavour to obtain something towards our support; for I determined if possible to keep our first stock entire. We therefore weighed and rowed along shore to see if anything could be got; and at last discovered some coconut trees; but they were on the top of high precipices and the surf made it dangerous landing: both one and the other we however got the better of. Some of the people with much difficulty climbed the cliffs and got about 20 coconuts, and others flung them to ropes, by which we hauled them through the surf into the boat. This was all that could be done here and, as I found no place so safe as the one we had left to spend the night at, I returned to the cove and, having served a coconut to each person, we went to rest again in the boat.

Thursday 30.

At daylight we attempted to put to sea; but the wind and weather proved so bad that I was glad to return to our former station where, after issuing a morsel of bread and a spoonful of rum to each person, we landed, and I went off with Mr. Nelson, Mr. Samuel, and some others, into the country, having hauled ourselves up the precipice by long vines which were fixed there by the natives for that purpose, this being the only way into the country.

We found a few deserted huts and a small plantain walk but little taken care of, from which we could only collect three small bunches of plantains. After passing this place we came to a deep gully that led towards a mountain near a volcano and, as I conceived that in the rainy season very great torrents of water must pass through it, we hoped to find sufficient for our use remaining in some holes of the rocks; but after all our search the whole that we collected was only nine gallons. We advanced within two miles of the foot of the highest mountain in the island, on which is the volcano that is almost constantly burning. The country near it is covered with lava and has a most dreary appearance. As we had not been fortunate in our discoveries, and saw nothing to alleviate our distresses except the plantains and water above-mentioned, we returned to the boat exceedingly fatigued and faint. When I came to the precipice whence we were to descend into the cove I was seized with such a dizziness in my head that I thought it scarce possible to effect it: however by the assistance of Nelson and others they at last got me down, in a weak condition. Every person being returned by noon I gave about an ounce of pork and two plantains to each, with half a glass of wine. I again observed the latitude of this place 19 degrees 41 minutes south. The people who remained by the boat I had directed to look for fish or what they could pick up about the rocks; but nothing eatable could be found: so that upon the whole we considered ourselves on as miserable a spot of land as could well be imagined.

I could not say positively from the former knowledge I had of this island whether it was inhabited or not; but I knew it was considered inferior to the other islands, and I was not certain but that the Indians only resorted to it at particular times. I was very anxious to ascertain this point for, in case there had been only a few people here, and those could have furnished us with but very moderate supplies, the remaining in this spot to have made preparations for our voyage would have been preferable to the risk of going amongst multitudes, where perhaps we might lose everything. A party therefore sufficiently strong I determined should go another route as soon as the sun became lower, and they cheerfully undertook it.

About two o'clock in the afternoon the party set out but, after suffering much fatigue, they returned in the evening without any kind of success.

At the head of the cove about 150 yards from the waterside there was a cave; the distance across the stony beach was about 100 yards, and from the country into the cove there was no other way than that which I have already described. The situation secured us from the danger of being surprised, and I determined to remain on shore for the night with a part of my people that the others might have more room to rest in the boat with the master, whom I directed to lie at a grapnel and be watchful in case we should be attacked. I ordered one plantain for each person to be boiled and, having supped on this scanty allowance with a quarter of a pint of grog, and fixed the watches for the night, those whose turn it was laid down to sleep in the cave, before which we kept up a good fire yet notwithstanding we were much troubled with flies and mosquitoes.

May. Friday 1.

At dawn of day the party set out again in a different route to see what they could find, in the course of which they suffered greatly for want of water: they however met with two men, a woman, and a child: the men came with them to the cove and brought two coconut shells of water. I endeavoured to make friends of these people and sent them away for breadfruit, plantains, and water. Soon after other natives came to us; and by noon there were thirty about us, from whom we obtained a small supply; but I could only afford one ounce of pork and a quarter of a breadfruit to each man for dinner, with half a pint of water, for I was fixed in my resolution not to use any of the bread or water in the boat.

No particular chief was yet among the natives: they were notwithstanding tractable, and behaved honestly, exchanging the provisions they brought for a few buttons and beads. The party who had been out informed me of their having seen several neat plantations, so that it remained no longer a doubt of there being settled inhabitants on the island, for which reason I determined to get what I could, and to sail the first moment that the wind and weather would allow us to put to sea.

I was much puzzled in what manner to account to the natives for the loss of my ship: I knew they had too much sense to be amused with a story that the ship was to join me, when she was not in sight from the hills. I was at first doubtful whether I should tell the real fact or say that the ship had overset and sunk, and that we only were saved: the latter appeared to be the most proper and advantageous for us, and I accordingly instructed my people, that we might all agree in one story. As I expected enquiries were made about the ship, and they seemed readily satisfied with our account; but there did not appear the least symptom of joy or sorrow in their faces, although I fancied I discovered some marks of surprise. Some of the natives were coming and going the whole afternoon, and we got enough of breadfruit, plantains, and coconuts for another day; but of water they only brought us about five pints. A canoe also came in with four men and brought a few coconuts and breadfruit which I bought as I had done the rest. Nails were much enquired after, but I would not suffer any to be shown as they were wanted for the use of the boat.

Towards evening I had the satisfaction to find our stock of provisions somewhat increased, but the natives did not appear to have much to spare. What they brought was in such small quantities that I had no reason to hope we should be able to procure from them sufficient to stock us for our voyage. At sunset all the natives left us in quiet possession of the cove. I thought this a good sign, and made no doubt that they would come again the next day with a better supply of food and water, with which I hoped to sail without farther delay: for if in attempting to get to Tongataboo we should be driven to leeward of the islands there would be a larger quantity of provisions to support us against such a misfortune.

At night I served a quarter of a breadfruit and a coconut to each person for supper and, a good fire being made, all but the watch went to sleep.

Saturday 2.

At daybreak the next morning I was pleased to find everyone's spirits a little revived, and that they no longer regarded me with those anxious looks which had constantly been directed towards me since we lost sight of the ship: every countenance appeared to have a degree of cheerfulness, and they all seemed determined to do their best.

As there was no certainty of our being supplied with water by the natives I sent a party among the gullies in the mountains with empty shells to see what could be found. In their absence the natives came about us as I expected, and in greater numbers; two canoes also came in from round the north side of the island. In one of them was an elderly chief called Maccaackavow. Soon after some of our foraging party returned, and with them came a good-looking chief called Egijeefow, or perhaps more properly Eefow, Egij or Eghee, signifying a chief. To each of these men I made a present of an old shirt and a knife, and I soon found they either had seen me or had heard of my being at Annamooka. They knew I had been with captain Cook, who they inquired after, and also captain Clerk. They were very inquisitive to know in what manner I had lost my ship. During this conversation a young man named Nageete appeared, whom I remembered to have seen at Annamooka: he expressed much pleasure at our meeting. I enquired after Poulaho and Feenow, who they said were at Tongataboo; and Eefow agreed to accompany me thither if I would wait till the weather moderated. The readiness and affability of this man gave me much satisfaction.

This however was but of short duration for the natives began to increase in number and I observed some symptoms of a design against us. Soon after they attempted to haul the boat on shore, on which I brandished my cutlass in a threatening manner and spoke to Eefow to desire them to desist, which they did and everything became quiet again. My people who had been in the mountains now returned with about three gallons of water. I kept buying up the little breadfruit that was brought to us, and likewise some spears to arm my men with, having only four cutlasses, two of which were in the boat. As we had no means of improving our situation I told our people I would wait till sunset, by which time perhaps something might happen in our favour: for if we attempted to go at present we must fight our way through, which we could do more advantageously at night; and that in the meantime we would endeavour to get off to the boat what we had bought. The beach was lined with the natives and we heard nothing but the knocking of stones together, which they had in each hand. I knew very well this was the sign of an attack. At noon I served a coconut and a breadfruit to each person for dinner, and gave some to the chiefs, with whom I continued to appear intimate and friendly. They frequently importuned me to sit down but I as constantly refused: for it occurred both to Nelson and myself that the intended to seize hold of me if I gave them such an opportunity. Keeping therefore constantly on our guard we were suffered to eat our uncomfortable meal in some quietness.

After dinner we began by little and little to get our things into the boat, which was a troublesome business on account of the surf. I carefully watched the motions of the natives, who continued to increase in number, and found that, instead of their intention being to leave us, fires were made, and places fixed on for their stay during the night. Consultations were also held among them and everything assured me we should be attacked. I sent orders to the master that when he saw us coming down he should keep the boat close to the shore that we might the more readily embark.

I had my journal on shore with me, writing the occurrences in the cave and in sending it down to the boat, it was nearly snatched away but for the timely assistance of the gunner.

The sun was near setting when I gave the word, on which every person who was on shore with me boldly took up his proportion of things and carried them to the boat. The chiefs asked me if I would not stay with them all night. I said: "No, I never sleep out of my boat; but in the morning we will again trade with you, and I shall remain till the weather is moderate that we may go, as we have agreed, to see Poulaho at Tongataboo." Maccaackavow then got up and said: "You will not sleep on shore? then Mattie" (which directly signifies we will kill you) and he left me. The onset was now preparing; everyone as I have described before kept knocking stones together, and Eefow quitted me. All but two or three things were in the boat, when I took Nageete by the hand, and we walked down the beach, everyone in a silent kind of horror.

While I was seeing the people embark Nageete wanted me to stay to speak to Eefow, but I found he was encouraging them to the attack, and it was my determination if they had then begun to have killed him for his treacherous behaviour. I ordered the carpenter not to quit me till the other people were in the boat. Nageete, finding I would not stay, loosed himself from my hold and went off, and we all got into the boat except one man who, while I was getting on board, quitted it and ran up the beach to cast the stern fast off, notwithstanding the master and others called to him to return while they were hauling me out of the water.

I was no sooner in the boat than the attack began by about 200 men; the unfortunate poor man who had run up the beach was knocked down, and the stones flew like a shower of shot. Many Indians got hold of the stern rope and were near hauling the boat on shore, which they would certainly have effected if I had not had a knife in my pocket with which I cut the rope. We then hauled off to the grapnel, everyone being more or less hurt. At this time I saw five of the natives about the poor man they had killed, and two of them were beating him about the head with stones in their hands.

We had no time to reflect for to my surprise they filled their canoes with stones, and twelve men came off after us to renew the attack, which they did so effectually as nearly to disable us all. Our grapnel was foul but Providence here assisted us; the fluke broke and we got to our oars and pulled to sea. They however could paddle round us, so that we were obliged to sustain the attack without being able to return it, except with such stones as lodged in the boat, and in this I found we were very inferior to them. We could not close because our boat was lumbered and heavy, of which they knew how to take advantage: I therefore adopted the expedient of throwing overboard some clothes which, as I expected, they stopped to pick up and, as it was by this time almost dark, they gave over the attack and returned towards the shore leaving us to reflect on our unhappy situation.

The poor man killed by the natives was John Norton: this was his second voyage with me as a quartermaster, and his worthy character made me lament his loss very much. He has left an aged parent I am told, whom he supported.

I once before sustained an attack of a similar nature with a smaller number of Europeans against a multitude of Indians: it was after the death of Captain Cook on the Morai at Owhyhee, where I was left by Lieutenant King. Yet notwithstanding this experience I had not an idea that the power of a man's arm could throw stones from two to eight pounds weight with such force and exactness as these people did. Here unhappily we were without firearms, which the Indians knew; and it was a fortunate circumstance that they did not begin to attack us in the cave; for in that case our destruction must have been inevitable, and we should have had nothing left for it but to sell our lives as dearly as we could, in which I found everyone cheerfully disposed to concur. This appearance of resolution deterred them, supposing that they could effect their purpose without risk after we were in the boat.

Taking this as a sample of the disposition of the natives there was but little reason to expect much benefit by persevering in the intention of visiting Poulaho; for I considered their good behaviour formerly to have proceeded from a dread of our firearms, and which therefore was likely to cease, as they knew we were now destitute of them: and even supposing our lives not in danger the boat and everything we had would most probably be taken from us, and thereby all hopes precluded of ever being able to return to our native country.

We set our sails and steered along shore by the west side of the island Tofoa, the wind blowing fresh from the eastward. My mind was employed in considering what was best to be done when I was solicited by all hands to take them towards home: and when I told them that no hopes of relief for us remained (except what might be found at New Holland) till I came to Timor, a distance of full 1200 leagues, where there was a Dutch settlement, but in what part of the island I knew not, they all agreed to live on one ounce of bread and a quarter of a pint of water per day. Therefore after examining our stock of provisions and recommending to them in the most solemn manner not to depart from their promise, we bore away across a sea where the navigation is but little known, in a small boat twenty-three feet long from stem to stern, deep laden with eighteen men. I was happy however to see that everyone seemed better satisfied with our situation than myself.

Our stock of provisions consisted of about one hundred and fifty pounds of bread, twenty-eight gallons of water, twenty pounds of pork, three bottles of wine, and five quarts of rum. The difference between this and the quantity we had on leaving the ship was principally owing to our loss in the bustle and confusion of the attack. A few coconuts were in the boat and some breadfruit, but the latter was trampled to pieces.