1851 - Lucett, E. Rovings in the Pacific, from 1837 to 1849 [New Zealand sections] - CHAPTER IX. [Part]

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  1851 - Lucett, E. Rovings in the Pacific, from 1837 to 1849 [New Zealand sections] - CHAPTER IX. [Part]
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Mywolla. -- Make the Reef again. -- The Captain takes all the Seamen to the Wreck, and it falls calm. -- The Vessel drifts out of Sight of the Reef. -- Westerly Current in part accounted for. -- Abandonment of the Wreck. -- Make for the Bay of Islands -- Alteration of Plans. -- The Vessel grounds on a Shoal off the North Shore opposite Auckland. -- Auckland improved, but Cash scarce. -- "Little Tom" quits the Vessel. -- New Master engaged. -- Under weigh for Tahiti. -- Sight Huaheine and Raiatea. -- Pass between Moorea and Tahiti. -- The entrance to it. -- Tahiti described. -- Its People. -- Missionary Influence. -- Queen Pomare the Head of the Island. -- The Government shared by seven Chiefs. -- Laws in force at Night. -- Ancient Rites superseded by more enlightened Instructions. -- Avata Shark. -- Horrible Sacrifice of an Infant by its Father. -- The Symbol conveyed to an intended Human Sacrifice. --Form of the unhallowed Oblation. --Want of Jealousy towards White Men accounted for. -- Conversation with Flowers. -- Process of manufacturing Tappa. -- Native Colours. -- A curious Method of producing a Red Dye. -- Canoes. -- Novel mode of Fishing. --Native Houses. -- Method of Cooking. -- Diseases of the Country.

"Darker grew the heavens, as the sun descended.
Till the starless storm-sky with the wave was blended.
Soon a horrid calm fell on the gloomy night.
Nor a growling breeze now wing'd the vessel's flight."

September 27th. -- At two o'clock A. M., civil time, we made the island of Mywolla, one of the Fejee group; for after a long and baffled search for the reef, we discovered that a false rate had been left with the chronometer, which was calculated to lead

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us astray; and I had my doubts whether foul tricks had not been played with the instrument itself to insure the fulfilment of the predictions made by the scoundrel who deserted me. Every vestige of paper which contained the working of the sights was destroyed, and I had nothing to guide or direct me. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to discover, in an old memorandum-book, the original error and daily rate of the time-keeper, given, to a certain date, by the Observer in Sydney. I worked up the rate from that time, and, adding it to the error, the island as laid down on the chart very nearly accorded in longitude with the time shown by the watch; but the island has been inaccurately surveyed, and, from the great disparity of its bearings to those expressed on the different charts, we could not prove the chronometer to any nicety.

Mywolla is much larger than it is laid down, and its points and bays bear not the remotest resemblance to those mapped. We circumnavigated it, and were nearly wrecked upon some unnoticed islets with reefs off them. As far as we could judge it is a rich and fertile isle: but the many reports of the treachery of the natives prevented my going ashore. We stood close along the land, but no natives put off to us, although we could see them on the beach running about in a state of nudity. They lit fires at night on the hills, which I was told was an indubitable token of friendliness; but still I did not like their keeping away so entirely from us, particularly as we noticed several canoes plying close in shore. On the third morning we

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made a last effort to induce them to visit us, by standing as close in as it was advisable to venture; and after a while we were gratified by seeing two canoes bearing towards us. To provide against accidents, that is, lest our visitors should be coming with "hostile arms intent," we prepared our own, to give them, under such circumstances, a warm reception; but when the first fellow came alongside, our fears on that head were dispelled. They brought a few clubs, spears, yams, and some tortoiseshell for barter; but they had nothing with them of much value. Their canoes are something similar to those of Rotumah; but they have very wide outriggers, to counterbalance a square platform elevated above the gunwales of the canoe. They handle their paddles differently from any natives I have seen, as they stand upon the thwarts of the outrigger with their faces towards the stern, and in this manner they propel the canoe forward with a motion like that used in sculling; only in sculling the man stands with his back to the bow, and his oar rests in a chock placed in the stern, whereas they have nothing to rest their paddles against, which resemble broad-bladed oars; and the rate they go at is inconceivable.

The men, if we saw a fair sample, are a nobly built powerful race, darker than any other islanders I have seen; but this may perhaps appear from the custom they have of rubbing their bodies and filling their hair with a black powder. In the second canoe that came alongside was a chief of note apparently, and he was exceedingly anxious for me

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to go on shore. He continued reiterating, with much earnestness, the word "Trunke, Trunke," and made signs that he would remain on board to answer for my safety. I was about to go; but the captain caught my arm, and earnestly dissuaded me from doing so, as he said he was certain that they only wanted to get me ashore for the purpose of obtaining ransom; and if, after I was gone, the chief jumped overboard and swam to his canoe, they would have no other means of rescuing me. There was reason in this; for if they attempted to shoot the chief for escaping, my fate would be inevitably sealed; I therefore suffered my inclinations to be overruled, much to the mortification of the chief, who bestowed upon the captain a most unmistakable scowl, only to be fully appreciated by those that saw it. This fortified me in my prudential resolution; and I returned, to carry on the best intercourse I could with telegraphic signs. One of the canoes pushed off for the shore, to bring, as they intended, some pigs and more yams and tortoiseshell; but on its return, it only had a few trifling articles in it, and some new faces, who earnestly pointed to the shore, and repeated the exclamation of "Trunke, Trunke." Finding we could make nothing of our intercourse, and determined not to put myself in their power, I hinted thus much to them, when they left us with a sullen air of disappointment and ferocity. We remarked that several of the men had lost their little fingers. The chief was one of Nature's noblemen; he stood nearly seven feet high, and his limbs, athletic in proportion, were beautifully moulded. He

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had cicatrised wounds from musket-balls in two or three places, and I endeavoured to ascertain under what circumstances he had got them, whether in any row with white men; but he pointed to a distant part of Mywolla, wishing me to understand that they had been received in an engagement with an opposite tribe. I doubted it very much; for he pretended ignorance of the nature of a musket, and I detected the shining barrels of several, which were only partially concealed in the bottom of his canoe, and he was evidently familiar with fire-arms. From the bearings of the land, our chronometer, as we stood away again for a fresh trial at the reef, put us twenty-five miles to the westward of our position; but, as before observed, no dependence can be placed upon the bearings laid down on the charts. By a lunar observation, it made our position to the eastward: however, I hope this time we may be more fortunate.

October 5th. -- Early this morning we again sighted the reef, and made directly for it. By our chronometer it was in 174 deg. 14' E., differing twenty-six miles from the instructions given us; but I cannot tell at present whether our chronometer is correct. 21 deg. 41' S. is the correct latitude. On one chart in my possession there is a reef laid down in this latitude or nearly so, and in longitude 175 deg. 15' E. By various daily observations, our chronometer still continued to give the reef in 174 deg. 14' E., which tempts me to believe it to be the trite longitude. The placing it in 175 deg. 15' E. may have been a typographical error on the part of the engraver.

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The fellow who quitted me at Rotumah, and who had previously navigated the vessel at his own urgent request, on the plea of his knowledge of the seas, made the reef to be in 174 deg. 28' E.; but be concealed his work from every one, and, so far as lay in his power, I believe he did his best to cause us to be wrecked. And why? Because he thought that his services were indispensable. Even had they been so, that circumstance ought to have bound him the more to me, as it was at his own earnest solicitation that he joined us; but it served only as an inducement to throw obstacles in our way. I had reposed the fullest confidence in him, and never thought of inspecting his work, as I never could have surmised the result of his conduct; nor did it strike me as being any thing extraordinary that, previous to our first making the reef, we sailed for several days over and about the spot where he affirmed it should be. Roused to exertion, and to look into matters myself, I speedily acquired sufficient knowledge to detect him in error, as he certainly had left a false rate with the chronometer, whether from design or ignorance I will not say. By the bearings of the land at Mywolla, it was twenty-five miles eastward of what our chronometer gave; and twenty-five miles added to 174 deg. 14' E., will make the longitude within one mile of that given us in the instructions, which was the mean of observations by three chronometers: however, I shall keep the rate we have been applying lately, and ascertain the truth on reaching the first harbour we drop anchor in.

When we were about six miles from the sandspit,

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the captain had both boats lowered, and carried with him all the seamen, leaving on board only the cook, the cabin-boy, and myself. Shortly after he had left us, it fell dead calm; and it was with some little apprehension that I noticed we were slowly, but gradually, drifting towards the reef. Not a ripple disturbed the surface of the water, and the ocean bore the appearance of undulating glass. The vessel lost her steerage-way, and at last we approached within two miles of the breakers. - The boats and all hands being away, rendered our position somewhat precarious; and I was on the point of firing off the guns, as a signal for their return, when we had the satisfaction to find we had got into a counter currents that was setting us in an opposite direction. The boats came on board about two o'clock P. M., and the hands having refreshed themselves they started off again. The calm continued, not a breath of air was stirring, and, towards sunset, we had drifted nearly out of sight of the reef; no boats made their appearance, the sun went down, and the reef was no longer visible. The night closed upon us very dark, and one, two, three hours passed away, and the boats did not appear, whilst we were helplessly drifting to where the current liked to take us. My sensations were by no means enviable; for, if the boats missed us, and it should afterwards come on to blow -- the usual sequence of such a calm -- what a plight we should all be in! we had not strength to work the vessel, and those in the boats would probably be lost. We kept a light burning at our fore-topgallant mast-head, and we fired guns, and let off

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rockets at intervals; still no boats, and not a sound could we hear in answer to our firing. The deep silence of the night, the profound calm, and dead repose of every thing, was absolutely painful; and my anxiety increased as the chances of their arrival decreased. Once more we fired. This time, to my great thankfulness, a responding shout came booming over the water, as if a legion of bulls had conspired to raise the cry; showing, at all events, that the anxiety of the boating parties was little less than ours. We continued exchanging halloos until one boat only came alongside, all hands sufficiently comfortable. They had seen nothing of their consort. Whilst I was expressing my fears and anxiety, she also came alongside, having approached us in a different direction. Her crew was also glorious. It appeared they had been detained for the want of water, assuredly not for want of beer. The tide had enabled them to get in easily enough, but they were compelled to wait till half-flood before they could get out again with the boats laden.

I omitted to notice, when we had the navigator par excellence on board, the astonishment excited in me by the wonderful influence of the current in the space of twenty-four hours. Although we had been steering S., and S. by E., we had made seventy miles westing; but now the murder was out. On casually turning over the pages of the memorandum-book before alluded to, I discovered that our scientific genius had been in the habit of subtracting the daily gain from the original error of the chronometer, although that error was too fast for Greenwich; so that, accord-

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ing to his system, we should soon have had no error at all. I heard the little master arguing; with him upon the subject, and it seemed to me that the theory maintained by the other was erroneous; but concluding that a man of his vaunted experience could not be mistaken, the question ceased to trouble me. On coming now to look into matters for myself, and inquiring into causes and effects, by lighting on this chance memorandum it turned out that, on the day we made such a wonderful jump to the westward, our worthy had covertly become a convert to his error, and, without in any way alluding to the circumstance, made the necessary alteration, which naturally placed us so much further to the westward, but which he vehemently maintained was the effect of the current. There are currents it is true, but they appear to have no direct set; they are ever varying, and we have had ample opportunity of testing their inconstancy. We have had the current northerly, easterly, at other times westerly, and again we have had it southerly, in fact it has boxed all round the compass in the same latitude and longitude, and baffled all our calculations; and unless there is in these troubled regions some submarine action of fire to influence the waters, I am at a loss how to account for its instability.

October 21th. -- On the evening of this day, in consequence of the unmanageable conduct of the crew, who would persist in getting drunk in spite of all remonstrance, and notwithstanding the dangerous proximity to the reef we were compelled to maintain, with much reluctance, I own, I came to the resolu-

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tion of abandoning it. For three and twenty days had we been standing off and on--off at night, and making it again in the morning. We had contrived to get out of the brig all the beef that was in good condition and which was the only valuable part of the cargo; but if dependence could have been placed upon the men, we should have likewise recovered her anchors, cables, guns, sails, and other gear; but so much bottled ale lying loose in the hold offered such facilities for getting drunk, that sailor-like, the men could not resist it, and the lives of all hands were repeatedly endangered by their recklessness. In bringing off the beef some chance of escape might have offered if the boats had got swamped, as there was the capability of starting the goods overboard; but a similar occurrence happening when the boats were laden with guns, anchors, chains, &c., the weight would have prevented the possibility of lightening them, and they would have been settled beyond the power of redemption. We might have constructed a raft; but this would have required the calmest weather, for the weather that would have admitted of our bringing it off would not have suffered the vessel to come near the reef. And supposing we had made a raft, we might have waited long enough, and perhaps to no purpose, for the chance of getting it away: for the water is shoal over a long extent of coral reef, and the rolling swell that usually plays upon it would have baffled any attempts to have got the raft over it. Besides, it would have taken many days to have got all in readiness, which might have proved expensive, and labour thrown away; and

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above all, there was the drunkenness of the men to combat with; so, in reflecting upon the whole, I came to the resolution of abandoning further exertions. It had been my intention to have cruised amongst the islands for tortoiseshell, &c. until I reached Manilla or Macao; but so much time had been lost, and so much unexpected delay occasioned by the working at the reef, that I feared to encounter the changing of the Monsoon in the China seas, and, by attempting too much, lose all. Solacing myself with the reflection that I had used my utmost exertions, and hoping still to dispose favourably of every thing, we now stood for the Bay of Islands.

November 11th. --At four o'clock A. M. this day, we were beating between the heads; and at about nine, the wind falling light, I landed in a boat at Tapeka Point. From there I walked over to Kororarika, and was struck with the apparent solitude of the place. Scarcely an individual was to be seen; the place seemed deserted, and business suspended; silence had usurped the place of noise, bustle, and activity, that prevailed the last time I was there; and instead of the crowd of shipping that used generally to be at anchor off the town, the government brig, and one or two small coasting craft were all that could be seen. No improvements had taken place; and works I had seen in progress had been abandoned. "Something ails it now, the place is cursed;" but I don't see how it could have been expected otherwise, the whalers were the only means of keeping up any commercial activity, and the government impositions have driven them away.

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Is it not extraordinary that we, who have colonies immediately upon the whaling grounds, should yet be beaten out of the field by the Yankees, who have to come a distance of from 16,000 to 18,000 miles? I am acquainted with the son of a gentleman who was formerly one of the largest owners of whalers out of Sydney, He served his apprenticeship on board one of his father's vessels; and amongst other remarks, the fruits of his experience, he stated that one of the most expensive items in the outfit of a whaler was her casks. The English casks are made of very stout oaken staves and heading, the latter being particularly so, and are long and narrow, with a great booge and depth of chime, bad to stow, occupying much unnecessary room, and not only difficult, but dangerous to up-end and cooper in heavy weather. The Yankee casks are built like a drum, the staves not much above half the thickness of ours, and the heads made of well seasoned pine: in consequence, they don't cost half the price, stow in much less room, the strain on each cask is more equally divided, and, as they have no more chime than is absolutely necessary, not only is there so much space saved, but the chimes stand less chance of being broken, and can be coopered without danger in any weather; and, from the jointing of the staves and beading being finer than that of the English casks, owing to the great thickness of the latter, they are less liable to loss by leakage. John Bull, amongst the operatives, is particularly pig-headed and wedded to his own opinion; he will not believe that a Yankee can teach him anything: and the captain of an English

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whaler would rather pride himself on, and boast of, the greater expense of his outfit, than try and lessen that expense by taking a wrinkle from a Yankee.

I strolled down the beach to renew acquaintance with faces I had formerly known; but nearly all had deserted for Waitematta, the seat of government, and "nothing was moving but stagnation." In the evening I pulled up the Kawakawa, where the Yankee whalers resort. Only two were there, and the acting American consul was absent, his affairs being in difficulty; and I was compelled to abandon the hope I had formed of exchanging supplies for bone, oil, &c. No business was stirring, and money was not to be had. We waited in the bay for a few days, to admit of repairs being done to the vessel; and, whilst these were going on with, a vessel arrived, bringing most melancholy intelligence of the state of the market in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, --scarcely a house but what was in difficulty, and many firms deemed infallible had called a meeting of creditors. This distressing account altered my views, and I cleared out for Waitematta and the island of Otaheite, intending to meet the whalers about the time they would be seeking the harbour of the latter island, and to be guided thereafter by the chapter of accidents.

November 22nd. -- Dropped anchor opposite the town of Auckland Waitematta: however, before coming to our anchorage, we grounded on a soft sand or mud-bank on the north shore. The water having suddenly shoaled whilst they were heaving the lead,

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from five fathoms to ten feet, we had to wait till high water before we floated again, and sustained no injury. Auckland had assumed an improved appearance; new and neat-looking stores and houses had superseded the straggling buildings of the composite order, between Maori hut and Irish hovel. Streets had been formed (many of which, by the by, will have to be laid out anew, their unwholesome narrowness engendering filth of every description); and in front of many of the houses were patches of garden ground clothed with verdure. But business -- business -- was in the same desponding state; most of the settlers had exhausted their capital in the purchase of their allotments and the erection of their dwellings, and now they were without cash to carry on business, or to liquidate the liabilities they had incurred. The saying, that "fools build houses, and wise men inhabit them," seems equally to apply in new countries as in old. When the government first planned Auckland, and put up building allotments for public competition, certain officials and land-sharks from Port Nicholson purchased all they could at the first flush, upon speculation; and subsequently dividing and subdividing their purchases, have sold their divisions at such ruinous rates as to tie the hands of the artisans and petty traders. Any one coming into the market now, with plenty of money, might buy house-property cheap enough.

Having effected what sales I could, my old travelling companion of the East Cape joined me; and "Little Tom," the master, not wishing to extend his absence from his wife, whom he had left in delicate

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circumstances, I engaged another in his place; and, on November 27th, we left Waitematta for the Great Barrier, to allow the new master to collect his traps which he had left on that island. As we neared the land, a thick mist enshrouded it; and not thinking it safe to make the harbour till it cleared away, we stood off and on till four o'clock A. M.

November 28th, when we came to our anchor in Port Abercrombie, at the west end of the island. The harbour is completely land-locked, circular as a basin; no winds can affect it, as it is shut in, and surrounded by Alpine cliffs. On entering the harbour, we got the south-east end of the Little Barrier, to bear W. half N., and run in E. half S. The Westernmost headland, as you enter, is called Wellington Head, from the semblance, real or imaginary, it bears to that hero's profile. A captain Nayle has fixed his solitary abode in this secluded bay, and contemplates opening a copper-mine in the island, veritable specimens of valuable ore having been detected. As he was not present, I did not hear the particulars; but from the superficial glance I had at the rugged character of the island, I should think the operations of mining and transporting the ores for shipment would be found an expensive undertaking.

November 29th. -- Again purchased our anchor, and are now on our way for Tahiti.

December 31st. -- Our passage has been tediously prolonged by a succession of head-winds. To-day we sighted the islands of Raiatea and Huaheine, which lie in a W. N. W. direction, 100 to 140 miles from Tahiti; we passed to leeward of them. They

[End of New Zealand sections digitised]

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