A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 17

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Passage from New Holland to the Island Timor. Arrive at Coupang. Reception there.

June 1789.

Wednesday 3.

At eight o'clock in the evening we once more launched into the open ocean. Miserable as our situation was in every respect I was secretly surprised to see that it did not appear to affect anyone so strongly as myself; on the contrary it seemed as if they had embarked on a voyage to Timor in a vessel sufficiently calculated for safety and convenience. So much confidence gave me great pleasure and I may venture to assert that to this cause our preservation is chiefly to be attributed.

I encouraged everyone with hopes that eight or ten days would bring us to a land of safety; and, after praying to God for a continuance of his most gracious protection, I served an allowance of water for supper and directed our course to the west-south-west to counteract the southerly winds in case they should blow strong.

We had been just six days on the coast of New Holland in the course of which we found oysters, a few clams, some birds, and water. But perhaps a benefit nearly equal to this we received by having been relieved from the fatigue of being constantly in the boat and enjoying good rest at night. These advantages certainly preserved our lives and, small as the supply was, I am very sensible how much it alleviated our distresses. By this time nature must have sunk under the extremes of hunger and fatigue. Some would have ceased to struggle for a life that only promised wretchedness and misery; and others, though possessed of more bodily strength, must soon have followed their unfortunate companions. Even in our present situation we were most deplorable objects; but the hopes of a speedy relief kept up our spirits. For my own part, incredible as it may appear, I felt neither extreme hunger nor thirst. My allowance contented me, knowing that I could have no more.

Thursday 4.

I served one 25th of a pound of bread and an allowance of water for breakfast and the same for dinner with an addition of six oysters to each person. At noon latitude observed 10 degrees 48 minutes south; course since yesterday noon south 81 degrees west, distance 111 miles; longitude by account from Shoal Cape 1 degree 45 minutes west. A strong tradewind at east-south-east with fair weather.

This day we saw a number of water-snakes that were ringed yellow and black, and towards noon we passed a great deal of rock-weed. Though the weather was fair we were constantly shipping water, which kept two men always employed to bale the boat.

Friday 5.

At noon I observed in latitude 10 degrees 45 minutes south; our course since yesterday west one quarter north, 108 miles; longitude made 3 degrees 35 minutes west. Six oysters were, as yesterday, served to each man, in addition to the usual allowance of bread and water.

In the evening a few boobies came about us, one of which I caught with my hand. The blood was divided among three of the men who were weakest, but the bird I ordered to be kept for our dinner the next day. Served a quarter of a pint of water for supper, and to some who were most in need half a pint. In the course of the night, being constantly wet with the sea, we suffered much cold and shiverings.

Saturday 6.

At daylight I found that some of the clams which had been hung up to dry for sea-store were stolen; but everyone solemnly denied having any knowledge of it. This forenoon we saw a gannet, a sand-lark and some water-snakes which in general were from two or three feet long.

The usual allowance of bread and water was served for breakfast, and the same for dinner with the bird, which I distributed in the usual way, of Who shall have this? I proposed to make Timor about the latitude of 9 degrees 30 minutes south, or 10 degrees south. At noon I observed the latitude to be 10 degrees 19 minutes south; course north 77 degrees west, distance 117 miles; longitude made from the Shoal Cape, the north part of New Holland, 5 degrees 31 minutes west.

In the afternoon I took an opportunity of examining our store of bread, and found remaining 19 days allowance, at the former rate of serving one 25th of a pound three times a day: therefore, as I saw every prospect of a quick passage, I again ventured to grant an allowance for supper, agreeable to my promise at the time it was discontinued.

Sunday 7.

We passed the night miserably wet and cold and in the morning I heard heavy complaints. The sea was high and breaking over us. I could only afford the allowance of bread and water for breakfast, but for dinner I gave out an ounce of dried clams to each person, which was all that remained.

At noon I altered the course to the west-north-west to keep more from the sea, as the wind blew strong. Latitude observed 9 degrees 31 minutes south; course north 57 degrees west, distance 88 miles; longitude made 6 degrees 46 minutes west.

The sea ran very high all this day and we had frequent showers of rain so that we were continually wet and suffered much cold in the night. Mr. Ledward the surgeon, and Lawrence Lebogue, an old hardy seaman, appeared to be giving way very fast. I could only assist them by a teaspoonful or two of wine which I had carefully saved, expecting such a melancholy necessity.

Monday 8.

Wind at south-east. The weather was more moderate than it had been for some days past. A few gannets were seen. At noon I observed in 8 degrees 45 minutes south; course west-north-west one quarter west, 106 miles; longitude made 8 degrees 23 minutes west. The sea being smooth I steered west by south.

At four in the afternoon we caught a small dolphin, which was the first relief of the kind that we obtained. I issued about two ounces to each person, including the offals, and saved the remainder for dinner the next day. Towards evening the wind freshened and it blew strong all night, so that we shipped much water and suffered greatly from the wet and cold.

Tuesday 9.

At daylight as usual I heard much complaining, which my own feelings convinced me was too well founded. I gave the surgeon the Lebogue a little wine but I could afford them no farther relief except encouraging them with hopes that a very few days longer, at our present fine rate of sailing, would bring us to Timor.

Gannets, boobies, men of war and tropic birds, were constantly about us. Served the usual allowance of bread and water and at noon we dined on the remains of the dolphin, which amounted to about an ounce per man. I observed the latitude to be 9 degrees 9 minutes south; longitude made 10 degrees 8 minutes west; course since yesterday noon south 76 degrees west; distance 107 miles.

This afternoon I suffered great sickness from the nature of part of the stomach of the fish which had fallen to my share at dinner. At sunset served an allowance of bread and water for supper.

Wednesday 10.

In the morning after a very comfortless night there was a visible alteration for the worse in many of the people which gave me great apprehensions. An extreme weakness, swelled legs, hollow and ghastly countenances, a more than common inclination to sleep, with an apparent debility of understanding, seemed to me the melancholy presages of an approaching dissolution. The surgeon and Lebogue, in particular, were most miserable objects. I occasionally gave them a few teaspoonfuls of wine out of the little that remained, which greatly assisted them. The hopes of being able to accomplish the voyage was our principal support. The boatswain very innocently told me that he really thought I looked worse than anyone in the boat. The simplicity with which he uttered such an opinion amused me and I returned him a better compliment.

Our latitude at noon was 9 degrees 16 minutes south. Longitude from the north part of New Holland 12 degrees 1 minute west. Course since yesterday noon west half south 111 miles. Birds and rock-weed showed that we were not far from land, but I expected such signs here as there are many islands between the east part of Timor and New Guinea. The night was more moderate than the last.

Thursday 11.

Everyone received the customary allowance of bread and water, and an extra allowance of water was given to those who were most in need. At noon I observed in latitude 9 degrees 41 minutes south; course 77 degrees west, distance 109 miles; longitude made 13 degrees 49 minutes west. I had little doubt of having now passed the meridian of the eastern part of Timor which is laid down in 128 degrees east. This diffused universal joy and satisfaction.

In the afternoon we saw gannets and many other birds, and at sunset we kept a very anxious lookout. In the evening we caught a booby which I reserved for our dinner the next day.

Friday 12.

At three in the morning, with an excess of joy, we discovered Timor bearing from west-south-west to west-north-west, and I hauled on a wind to the north-north-east till daylight, when the land bore from south-west by south to north-east by north. Our distance from the shore two leagues.

It is not possible for me to describe the pleasure which the blessing of the sight of this land diffused among us. It appeared scarce credible to ourselves that, in an open boat and so poorly provided, we should have been able to reach the coast of Timor in forty-one days after leaving Tofoa, having in that time run, by our log, a distance of 3618 miles; and that, notwithstanding our extreme distress, no one should have perished in the voyage.

I have already mentioned that I knew not where the Dutch settlement was situated but I had a faint idea that it was at the south-west part of the island. I therefore, after daylight, bore away alongshore to the south-south-west, which I was the more readily induced to do as the wind would not suffer us to go towards the north-east without great loss of time.

The day gave us a most agreeable prospect of the land which was interspersed with woods and lawns; the interior part mountainous, but the shore low. Towards noon the coast became higher with some remarkable headlands. We were greatly delighted with the general look of the country which exhibited many cultivated spots and beautiful situations; but we could only see a few small huts whence I concluded that no European resided in this part of the island. Much sea ran on the shore which made landing impracticable. At noon we were abreast of a high headland; the extremes of the land bore south-west half west, and north-north-east half east; our distance offshore being three miles; latitude by observation 9 degrees 59 minutes south; and my longitude by dead reckoning from the north part of New Holland 15 degrees 6 minutes west.

With the usual allowance of bread and water for dinner I divided the bird we had caught the night before, and to the surgeon and Lebogue I gave a little wine.

The wind blew fresh at east and east-south-east with very hazy weather. During the afternoon we continued our course along a low shore covered with innumerable palm-trees, called the Fan Palm from the leaf spreading like a fan; but here we saw no signs of cultivation, nor had the country so fine an appearance as to the eastward. This however was only a small tract, for by sunset it improved again and I saw several great smokes where the inhabitants were clearing and cultivating their grounds. We had now run 25 miles to the west-south-west since noon and were west five miles from a low point which, in the afternoon, I imagined had been the southernmost land, and here the coast formed a deep bend with low land in the bight that appeared like islands. The west shore was high; but from this part of the coast to the high cape which we were abreast of at noon the shore is low and I believe shoal. I particularly remark this situation because here the very high ridge of mountains that run from the east end of the island, terminate, and the appearance of the country changes for the worse.

That we might not run past any settlement in the night I determined to preserve my station till the morning and therefore brought to under a close-reefed foresail. We were here in shoal water, our distance from the shore being half a league, the westernmost land in sight bearing west-south-west half west. Served bread and water for supper and, the boat lying to very well, all but the officer of the watch endeavoured to get a little sleep.

Saturday 13.

At two in the morning we wore and stood in shore till daylight when I found we had drifted during the night about three leagues to the west-south-west, the southernmost land in sight bearing west. On examining the coast and not seeing any sign of a settlement we bore away to the westward having a strong gale against a weather current which occasioned much sea. The shore was high and covered with wood, but we did not run far before low land again formed the coast, the points of which opening at west I once more fancied we were on the south part of the island; but at ten o'clock we found the coast again inclining towards the south, part of it bearing west-south-west half west. At the same time high land appeared in the south-west; but the weather was so hazy that it was doubtful whether the two lands were separated, the opening only extending one point of the compass. For this reason I stood towards the outer land and found it to be the island Roti.

I returned to the shore we had left and brought to a grapnel in a sandy bay that I might more conveniently calculate my situation. In this place we saw several smokes where the natives were clearing their grounds. During the little time we remained here the master and carpenter very much importuned me to let them go in search of supplies; to which at length I assented but, not finding any other person willing to be of their party, they did not choose to quit the boat. I stopped here no longer than for the purpose just mentioned, and we continued steering alongshore. We had a view of a beautiful-looking country as if formed by art into lawns and parks. The coast is low and covered with woods in which are innumerable fan palm-trees that look like coconut walks. The interior part is high land but very different from the more eastern parts of the island where it is exceedingly mountainous and to appearance the soil better.

At noon the island Roti bore south-west by west seven leagues. I had no observation for the latitude but by account we were in 10 degrees 12 minutes south; our course since yesterday noon being south 77 degrees west 54 miles. The usual allowance of bread and water was served for breakfast and dinner, and to the surgeon and Lebogue I continued to give wine.

We had a strong breeze at east-south-east with hazy weather all the afternoon. At two o'clock, having run through a very dangerous breaking sea, the cause of which I attributed to be a strong tide setting to windward, and shoal water, we discovered a spacious bay or sound with a fair entrance about two or three miles wide. I now conceived hopes that our voyage was nearly at an end as no place could appear more eligible for shipping or more likely to be chosen for a European settlement: I therefore came to a grapnel near the east side of the entrance in a small sandy bay where we saw a hut, a dog, and some cattle, and I immediately sent the boatswain and gunner away to the hut to discover the inhabitants.

The south-west point of the entrance bore west half south three miles; the south-east point south by west three-quarters of a mile; and the island Roti from south by west one quarter west to south-west one quarter west about five leagues.

While we lay here I found the ebb came from the northward, and before our departure the falling of the tide discovered to us a reef of rocks about two cables length from the shore, the whole being covered at high-water renders it dangerous. On the opposite shore also appeared very high breakers; but there is nevertheless plenty of room and certainly a safe channel for a first-rate man of war.

The bay or sound within, seemed to be of a considerable extent, the northern part being about five leagues distant. Here the land made in moderate risings joined by lower grounds. But the island Roti to the southward is the best mark by which to know this place.

I had just time to make these remarks when I saw the boatswain and gunner returning with some of the natives: I therefore no longer doubted of our success and that our expectations would be fully gratified. They brought five Indians and informed me that they had found two families where the women treated them with European politeness. From these people I learned that the governor resided at a place called Coupang which was some distance to the north-east. I made signs for one of them to go in the boat and show us the way to Coupang, intimating that I would pay him for his trouble: the man readily complied and came into the boat.

These people were of a dark tawny colour, had long black hair, and chewed a great deal of betel. Their dress was a square piece of cloth round the hips in the folds of which was stuck a large knife; a handkerchief wrapped round the head, and another hanging by the four corners from the shoulders, which served as a bag for their betel equipage. They brought us a few pieces of dried turtle and some ears of Indian corn. This last was the most welcome; for the turtle was so hard that it could not be eaten without being first soaked in hot water. They offered to bring us some other refreshments if I would wait, but as the pilot was willing I determined to push on. It was about half an hour past four when we sailed.

By direction of the pilot we kept close to the east shore under all our sail; but as night came on the wind died away and we were obliged to try at the oars which I was surprised to see we could use with some effect. At ten o'clock, finding we advanced but slowly, I came to a grapnel and for the first time I issued double allowance of bread and a little wine to each person.

Sunday 14.

At one o'clock in the morning, after the most happy and sweet sleep that ever men enjoyed, we weighed and continued to keep the east shore on board in very smooth water; when at last I found we were again open to the sea, the whole of the land to the westward that we had passed being an island which the pilot called Pulo Samow. The northern entrance of this channel is about a mile and a half or two miles wide and I had no ground at ten fathoms.

The report of two cannon that were fired gave new life to everyone; and soon after we discovered two square-rigged vessels and a cutter at anchor to the eastward. We endeavoured to work to windward but were obliged to take to our oars again, having lost ground on each tack. We kept close to the shore and continued rowing till four o'clock when I brought to a grapnel and gave another allowance of bread and wine to all hands. As soon as we had rested a little we weighed again, and rowed till near daylight when we came to a grapnel off a small fort and town which the pilot told me was Coupang.

Among the things which the boatswain had thrown into the boat before we left the ship was a bundle of signal flags that had been used by the boats to show the depth of water in sounding; with these we had in the course of the passage made a small jack which I now hoisted in the main shrouds as a signal of distress, for I did not think proper to land without leave.

Soon after daybreak a soldier hailed us to land, which I immediately did among a crowd of Indians, and was agreeably surprised to meet with an English sailor who belonged to one of the vessels in the road. His captain he told me was the second person in the town; I therefore desired to be conducted to him as I was informed the governor was ill and could not then be spoken with.

Captain Spikerman received me with great humanity. I informed him of our distressed situation; and requested that care might be taken of those who were with me without delay. On which he gave directions for their immediate reception at his own house, and went himself to the governor to know at what time I could be permitted to see him, which was fixed to be at eleven o'clock.

I now desired my people to come on shore which was as much as some of them could do, being scarce able to walk: they however were helped to the house and found tea with bread and butter provided for their breakfast.

The abilities of a painter, perhaps, could seldom have been displayed to more advantage than in the delineation of the two groups of figures which at this time presented themselves to each other. An indifferent spectator would have been at a loss which most to admire, the eyes of famine sparkling at immediate relief, or the horror of their preservers at the sight of so many spectres, whose ghastly countenances, if the cause had been unknown, would rather have excited terror than pity. Our bodies were nothing but skin and bones, our limbs were full of sores, and we were clothed in rags: in this condition, with the tears of joy and gratitude flowing down our cheeks, the people of Timor beheld us with a mixture of horror, surprise, and pity.

The governor, Mr. William Adrian van Este, notwithstanding extreme ill-health, became so anxious about us that I saw him before the appointed time. He received me with great affection and gave me the fullest proofs that he was possessed of every feeling of a humane and good man. Sorry as he was, he said, that such a calamity could ever have happened to us, yet he considered it as the greatest blessing of his life that we had fallen under his protection and, though his infirmity was so great that he could not do the office of a friend himself, he would give such orders as I might be certain would procure us every supply we wanted. A house should be immediately prepared for me, and with respect to my people he said that I might have room for them either at the hospital or on board of captain Spikerman's ship which lay in the road; and he expressed much uneasiness that Coupang could not afford them better accommodations, the house assigned to me being the only one uninhabited and the situation of the few families that lived at this place such that they could not conveniently receive strangers. For the present till matters could be properly regulated he gave directions that victuals for my people should be dressed at his own house.

On returning to Captain Spikerman's house I found that every kind relief had been given to my people. The surgeon had dressed their sores and the cleaning of their persons had not been less attended to, several friendly gifts of apparel having been presented to them.

I desired to be shown to the house that was intended for me, which I found ready with servants to attend. It consisted of a hall, with a room at each end, and a loft overhead; and was surrounded by a piazza with an outer apartment in one corner and a communication from the back part of the house to the street. I therefore determined, instead of separating from my people, to lodge them all with me; and I divided the house as follows: one room I took to myself, the other I allotted to the master, surgeon, Mr. Nelson, and the gunner; the loft to the other officers, and the outer apartment to the men. The hall was common to the officers and the men had the back piazza. Of this disposition I informed the governor, and he sent down chairs, tables and benches, with bedding and other necessaries for the use of everyone.

The governor when I took my leave had desired me to acquaint him with everything of which I stood in need; but it was only at particular times that he had a few moments of ease, or could attend to anything, being in a dying state with an incurable disease. On this account I transacted whatever business I had with Mr. Timotheus Wanjon, the second of this place, who was the you governor's son-in-law, and who also contributed everything in his power to make our situation comfortable. I had been, therefore, misinformed by the seaman who told me that captain Spikerman was the next person in command to the governor.

At noon a dinner was brought to the house sufficiently good to make persons more accustomed to plenty eat too much. Yet I believe few in such a situation would have observed more moderation than my people did. My greatest apprehension was that they would eat too much fruit, of which there was great variety in season at this time.

Having seen everyone enjoy this meal of plenty I dined myself with Mr. Wanjon; but I felt no extraordinary inclination to eat or drink. Rest and quiet I considered as more necessary to the reestablishment of my health and therefore retired soon to my room which I found furnished with every convenience. But instead of rest my mind was disposed to reflect on our late sufferings, and on the failure of the expedition; but above all on the thanks due to Almighty God who had given us power to support and bear such heavy calamities and had enabled me at last to be the means of saving eighteen lives.

In times of difficulty there will generally arise circumstances that bear particularly hard on a commander. In our late situation it was not the least of my distresses to be constantly assailed with the melancholy demands of my people for an increase of allowance which it grieved me to refuse. The necessity of observing the most rigid economy in the distribution of our provisions was so evident that I resisted their solicitations and never deviated from the agreement we made at setting out. The consequence of this care was that at our arrival we had still remaining sufficient for eleven days at our scanty allowance: and if we had been so unfortunate as to have missed the Dutch settlement at Timor we could have proceeded to Java where I was certain that every supply we wanted could be procured.

Another disagreeable circumstance to which my situation exposed me was the caprice of ignorant people. Had I been incapable of acting they would have carried the boat on shore as soon as we made the island of Timor without considering that landing among the natives at a distance from the European settlement might have been as dangerous as among any other Indians.

The quantity of provisions with which we left the ship was not more than we should have consumed in five days had there been no necessity for husbanding our stock. The mutineers must naturally have concluded that we could have no other place of refuge than the Friendly Islands for it was not likely they should imagine that, so poorly equipped as we were in every respect, there could have been a possibility of our attempting to return homewards: much less can they suspect that the account of their villainy has already reached their native country.

When I reflect how providentially our lives were saved at Tofoa by the Indians delaying their attack and that, with scarce anything to support life, we crossed a sea of more than 1200 leagues, without shelter from the inclemency of the weather; when I reflect that in an open boat with so much stormy weather we escaped foundering, that not any of us were taken off by disease, that we had the great good fortune to pass the unfriendly natives of other countries without accident, and at last happily to meet with the most friendly and best of people to relieve our distresses; I say when I reflect on all these wonderful escapes the remembrance of such great mercies enables me to bear, with resignation and cheerfulness, the failure of an expedition the success of which I had so much at heart and which was frustrated at a time when I was congratulating myself on the fairest prospect of being able to complete it in a manner that would fully have answered the intention of His Majesty and the humane promoters of so benevolent a plan.

With respect to the preservation of our health during a course of 16 days of heavy and almost continual rain I would recommend to everyone in a similar situation the method we practised which is to dip their clothes in the salt-water and wring them out as often as they become filled with rain: it was the only resource we had, and I believe was of the greatest service to us, for it felt more like a change of dry clothes than could well be imagined. We had occasion to do this so often that at length all our clothes were wrung to pieces: for, except the few days we passed on the coast of New Holland, we were continually wet either with rain or sea.

Thus through the assistance of Divine Providence we surmounted the difficulties and distresses of a most perilous voyage and arrived safe in an hospitable port where every necessary and comfort were administered to us with a most liberal hand.