A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 18

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At Coupang.

JUNE 1789.


From the great humanity and attention of the governor and the gentlemen at Coupang we received every kind of assistance and were not long without evident signs of returning health. Shortly after our arrival I presented to the governor a formal account of the loss of the Bounty; and a requisition in His Majesty's name that instructions might be sent to all the Dutch settlements to stop the ship if she made her appearance. With this a complete descriptive list of the mutineers was given.

I likewise requested in one of my first visits to the governor that Nelson might have permission to walk about the country in search of plants, which was readily granted with an offer of whatever assistance I should think necessary: and the governor assured me that the country was well worth examination as it abounded with many curious and medicinal plants. From this indulgence I derived no benefit, for Nelson, who since we left New Holland had been but in a weak condition, about this time was taken ill in consequence of a cold caused by imprudently leaving off warm clothing.

To secure our arrival at Batavia before the October fleet sailed for Europe I gave public notice of my intention to hire a vessel to carry us to Batavia. In consequence of this notice several offers were made but none that I thought reasonable; which determined me to purchase a small schooner in the road, that was 34 feet long, for which I gave 1000 rix-dollars and fitted her for sea under the name of His Majesty's schooner Resource. As the coast of Java is frequently infested with small piratical vessels it was necessary that we should be provided with the proper means of defence. In this I was assisted by the friendship of Mr. Wanjon who supplied me with four brass swivels, 14 stand of small arms, and ammunition, which he obligingly let me have as a loan to be returned at Batavia.

July 20.

On the 20th of July I had the misfortune to lose Mr. David Nelson: he died of an inflammatory fever. The loss of this honest man I very much lamented: he had with great care and diligence attended to the object for which he was sent, and had always been ready to forward every plan that was proposed, for the good of the service in which we were engaged. He was not less useful in our voyage hither, in the course of which he gave me great satisfaction, by the patience and fortitude with which he conducted himself.

July 21.

This day I was employed attending the funeral of Mr. Nelson. The corpse was carried by twelve soldiers dressed in black preceded by the minister; next followed myself and the second governor; then ten gentlemen of the town and the officers of the ships in the harbour; and after them my own officers and people.

After reading our burial-service the body was interred behind the chapel, in the burying-ground appropriated to the Europeans of the town. I was sorry I could get no tombstone to place over his remains.

This was the second voyage Mr. Nelson had undertaken to the South Seas, having been sent out by Sir Joseph Banks to collect plants, seeds, etc. in Captain Cook's last voyage. And now, after surmounting so many difficulties, and in the midst of thankfulness for his deliverance, he was called upon to pay the debt of nature at a time least expected.

August 20.

Our schooner being victualled and ready for sea, on the 20th of August I took an affectionate leave of the hospitable and friendly inhabitants of Coupang and embarked. In the afternoon we sailed, having the launch which had so much contributed to our preservation in tow. We exchanged salutes with the fort and shipping as we ran out of the harbour.

The town of Coupang is situated in a great bay which is an excellent road for shipping. The latitude of the town is 10 degrees 12 minutes south. According to the Dutch charts it is in 121 degrees 51 minutes east longitude. Taking the mean between the longitude by my reckoning on our arrival at Coupang, and the longitude afterwards calculated from our run to Batavia, gives me for the longitude of Coupang 124 degrees 41 minutes east.

This settlement was formed in the year 1630 and is the only one the Dutch have on the island Timor. They have residents in different parts of the country. On the north side of Timor there is a Portuguese settlement. The produce of the island is chiefly sandalwood and beeswax: the former article is now scarce. Wax they have in great plenty. The bees build their nests in bushes and in the boughs of trees to which the natives cannot approach but with fire. The honey is put into jars and the wax is run into blocks of three feet in length and from 12 to 15 inches square. The natives, at least those who live in the neighbourhood of Coupang, are of a very indolent disposition, of which the Chinese have taken advantage, for, though the Malays are very fond of traffic, most of their trade is carried on in small Chinese vessels of from 10 to 30 tons burden. There is a market at Coupang for the country people in which however there is little business done. I have seen a man from the country come to market with two potatoes: and this is not unusual. These being sold for two doits (equal to a halfpenny English) serve to supply him with betel to chew; and the remainder of the day is passed in lounging about the town. The inland people, who live at a distance from the Europeans, are strong and active, but their want of cleanliness subjects them to filthy diseases.

The chief of the natives, or king of the island, is by the Dutch styled Keyfer (Emperor). This prince lives at a place called Backennassy, about four miles distant from Coupang. His authority over the natives is not wholly undisputed; which is by the Dutch attributed to the intrigues of the Portuguese, who are on the north part of Timor. The island has lately suffered much by a competition between the present king and one of his nephews, which caused a civil war that lasted from the beginning of the year 1786 to 1788, when their differences were settled by a treaty, chiefly in favour of the king. The ravages committed in these disputes have occasioned a scarcity of provisions that probably, from the want of industry in the natives, will not soon be remedied. I had an opportunity of making a visit to the king. His dwelling was a large house which was divided into only three apartments and surrounded by a piazza, agreeably situated but very dirty, as was all the furniture. The king, who is an elderly man, received me with much civility and ordered refreshments to be set before me, which were tea, rice cakes, roasted Indian corn, and dried buffalo flesh, with about a pint of arrack, which I believe was all he had. His dress was a check wrapper girded round his waist with a silk and gold belt, a loose linen jacket, and a coarse handkerchief about his head. A few of his chiefs were with him who partook of our repast; after which the king retired with three of them for a short time and when he returned presented me with a round plate of metal about four inches diameter on which was stamped the figure of a star. As I had been informed that arrack would be an acceptable present I was prepared to make a return which was well received. They never dilute their liquor and from habit are able to drink a large quantity of spirits at a time without being intoxicated.

When a king dies a large feast is made to which all the inhabitants are invited. The body after a few days is put into a coffin which is closed up and kept three years before it is interred.

The Dutch have been at some pains to establish Christianity among the natives: but it has not gained much ground, except in the neighbourhood of Coupang. The present king was christened by the name of Barnardus. His Indian name is Bachee Bannock. The scriptures are translated into the Malay language and prayers are performed in the church at Coupang by a Malay clergyman, in that language.

I met at Timor with most of the fruits that are described in Captain Cook's first voyage as natives of Batavia, except the mangosteen. The breadfruit tree, called by the Malays soccoom, likewise grows here with great luxuriance and appears to be as much a native of this island as it is of Otaheite. The fruit is exactly of the same kind but not so good. A breadfruit of Timor weighs half as much more as one of equal size at Otaheite. It is not used here as bread but generally eaten with milk and sugar. At Backennassy I saw about twenty of the trees, larger than any I have seen at Otaheite. Here is also a sort of breadfruit tree that produces seeds not unlike Windsor beans and equally palatable either boiled or roasted. No other part of the fruit is eatable and, though the tree I am told is to all appearance the same as the other, the fruits have but little resemblance, the fruit of this being covered with projecting points nearly half an inch in length.

I received a present of some fine plants from the governor, which I was afterwards unfortunately obliged to leave at Batavia for want of proper room to take care of them in the packet by which I returned to Europe. Mr. Wanjon likewise favoured me with some seeds for His Majesty's garden at Kew which I had the good fortune to deliver safe on my return: and some of the mountain rice cultivated at Timor on the dry land, which was forwarded to His Majesty's botanic garden at St. Vincent, and to other parts in the West Indies.

A resemblance of language between the people of the South Sea islands and the inhabitants of many of the islands in the East Indies has been remarked in Captain Cook's first voyage. Here the resemblance appeared stronger than has yet been noticed; particularly in their numerals. But besides the language I observed some customs among the people of Timor still more striking for their similarity. They practise the tooge-tooge* of the Friendly Islands which they call toombock: and the roomee of Otaheite which they call ramas. I likewise saw, placed on their graves, offerings of baskets with tobacco and betel.

(*Footnote. The tooge-tooge is described in Captain Cook's last voyage Volume 1 page 323; and the roomee in the same voyage Volume 2 page 64.)

I left the governor Mr. van Este at the point of death. To this gentleman our most grateful thanks are due for the humane and friendly treatment that we received from him. His ill state of health only prevented him from showing us more particular marks of attention. Unhappily it is to his memory only that I now pay this tribute. It was a fortunate circumstance for us that Mr. Wanjon, the next in place to the governor, was equally humane and ready to relieve us. His attention was unremitting and, when there was a doubt about supplying me with money to enable me to purchase a vessel, he cheerfully took it upon himself; without which it was evident, I should have been too late at Batavia to have sailed for Europe with the October fleet. I can only return such services by ever retaining a grateful remembrance of them.

Mr. Max the town surgeon likewise behaved to us with the most disinterested humanity: he attended everyone with the utmost care, for which I could not prevail on him to receive any payment, or to render me any account, or other answer than that it was his duty.


From Timor to Batavia.