1867 - Moillet, J. K. The Mary Ira - I. The Ship and her Crew, p 3-26

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  1867 - Moillet, J. K. The Mary Ira - I. The Ship and her Crew, p 3-26
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IN these days of rapid travel, a journey which used to be looked upon as a great event is passed lightly over as a very ordinary occurrence. Indeed, the ease and comfort which now surround the traveller are such as to deprive him of that which formerly gave so much zest to his undertakings. But though the hardships to be endured, and the difficulties to be overcome by ingenious make-shifts, have been considerably reduced, yet

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the life of a traveller on board ship, passing down the length of the Atlantic, rounding the African Cape, tossed about and driven by the brave west winds of the south, till, narrowing his latitudes, he reaches the weird-looking shores of the Antipodes, is not one which would exactly suit the fair inhabitants of a London drawing-room, or the portly gentleman of affluence at home.

Without undergoing any such inconveniences, our readers are at liberty to sit quietly by their snug fire-sides, and look through our spectacles at the largest town in New Zealand.

The city of Auckland has been so frequently described by others, that we shall only venture upon a few remarks. Its site is hilly, and it is built irregularly on very broken ground; but the absence of fine timber is felt to interfere greatly with our English ideas of the picturesque. The eastern suburb has the most pretension to beauty, for here may be seen some pretty bays, while several clumps of trees conceal, with their evergreen foliage, numerous little villas--the very

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pictures of comfort and repose. The principal street--Queen's Street--terminates in a long wooden pier, which runs, for half-a-mile or more, into the harbour.

On the 10th of April, 1866, a bustling crowd had assembled on this pier, or wharf. Several boats, from one of the many stately merchant ships riding at anchor in the harbour, were discharging passengers. Alas! poor people! victims of misplaced confidence! they go forth, in their best clothes, and brightest faces, to the land of promise, which has formed the subject of their golden dreams throughout a long voyage. They go forth to explore the town, and to glean every information about their new homes. Their bright faces will soon bear the expression of blank disappointment, and they will curse the fate that brought them to the shores of New Zealand. We noticed an ominous group of regular hard and dry-cut colonials on the pier, with evidently no other intention in life than that of singling out the "new chums," and marking them down as

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fair game, to be bagged at a convenient season. As box after box was swung up from the lighter boats below, a careful note was made of each, and of its owner. Two boxes attracted especial attention. There was a constant buzz going on around them. The colonials seemed struck with a strong feeling of curiosity; perplexity was on their countenances as they peered first upon the boxes, and then into the passengers' faces, looking for some tokens of ownership. Clearly, the name on the boxes was not the cause of all this excitement, for on them was painted, in large plain letters, merely "Mr. A. Spence, passenger to Auckland." No; it was because the one box happened to be one of those useless multum in parvo tool chest affairs, made for gentlemen to amuse themselves with amateur carpentering; while the other was a highly got up patent leather trunk. Both were precisely of that description which a colonial would immediately set down as the belongings of an unmistakable green-horn from the old country. But Mr. Spence, a meek and intelligent youth,

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having done nothing to prove his identity, stuck his hands into his pockets, and sauntered down the pier, and up Queen's Street. The magniloquent and grandiose names with which the smallest shops were embellished often awoke a curl of contempt on his unfledged lips. The "New Zealand House of General Refreshment" was a low eating house, just the place for stale buns, bad cheese, and oysters. The "City of London Haberdashery Establishment" displayed an incongruous assortment of goods, from a needle to an anchor, all spoiled by a wet sea voyage, and "selling off," as the placards announced, cheaper than at any other shop in the world. The amusement which this bombast naturally excited in him was rudely checked by an old, seedy-looking seaman, who bawled out to his comrade, in a stentorian voice--

"By G--d, Bill, here's a new chum! Dash me, if he ain't a giggling at us!"

Mr. Spence, who was a "new chum," walked on without paying any attention to this remark.

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He suppressed, indeed, all symptoms of mirth; but, alas! his face became suffused with a very uncolonial glow. Had he been an old colonist he would have replied with some withering sarcasm, duly interpolated with a few of those coarse expressions with which seamen delight to warm up the cockles of each other's hearts. To his prejudice, the blushing youth did not follow this expedient line of conduct; consequently, the sailor, and his mate Bill, immediately put their helms hard down, and steered away in the wake of the new chum. Mr. Spence was not left long in ignorance of this circumstance. As he passed the "Original Universal Shoe Mart," which assured the gullible public of many remarkable facts, he felt a strong inclination to examine these announcements more fully. On turning round, what was his horror at perceiving the eyes of the two sardonic seamen glaring at him, a few paces behind! Being a young man of great natural resources, he immediately took in the whole position, and determined, too late, upon assuming the airs

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of a cool fish, thoroughly up to colonial snuff. He quietly crossed the street, with a jaunty swing, whistling an unknown air, and entered a small wooden house, where there was a sort of a bar, behind which stood a corpulent and gaudily-dressed old woman.

"A glass of beer, if you please, my good woman."

"'Arf-a-pint of hale is it yer mean?"

The young man placed a sixpence on the bar, and received in return a glass of thick, saltish mess, called colonial ale.

"Yer don't want change, do yer, now?" said the old woman.

"Oh! dear, no; not at all. I like that. Ha! I'll take one of these threepenny cigars to make it square."

"Oh! Lord! bless us; how sharp yer is," replied the old hag; "but, eh! what! be them two outsiders yer friends? Have'm in, young man, and shout (treat) for'm. That's the custom of the

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place. I may as well tell yer, for I sees yer a stranger to these parts."

Before the astonished Mr. Spence could get out a word in reply the two sailors walked in, and the old woman handed to each of them a glass of the mixture. The elder, a man about sixty, whose name was Harry, having--apparently, by means of some powerful hydraulic apparatus, which he seemed to keep for that purpose, somewhere handy in the region of his stomach--pumped up into his eyes and nose tears glistening with benevolence, smacked his lips, and began a long address to the following effect:--

"No, missus, ye ain't that gentleman's friends 'zactly, an' yet ve're friendly dispoged towards 'im, werry; vich that gentleman nose, 'cause me and my mate's been a vatching over 'im for Lord nose how long, an' a cruising after him, an' a taking his bearings for him, 'cause me and my mate seed as 'ow 'e didn't 'no vot he vos a doing, a giggling at every mortal thing, vich is punish-

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able here; and now I guess I've lost my situation just all along of him--Look out. Bill; don't let him get out; shove yer big carkase in the doorway. Vot imperance them small things 'as, ain't they, missus? Ven I, old enough to be his feyther is a speaking to him affectionate like, for him for to go for to try it on so. Shove'm back'ards, Bill; that's you. I vouldn't purposeli obstruct your door-vay, mum; but he aint yet paid you for our hale, and he shan't make 'is hexit till I'se done with 'im. If you'd 'noed how delicate-like I spoke to him in the street just now, all in a hindirect sort of a way, through my mate Bill, you'd say he varn't hardly ceevil."

"I won't pay for your ale, my man. I'm not the fool you take me to be. I never ordered it. The old woman herself made you a present of it. Perhaps she'll give you some more, if you ask her. No, well, don't be sulky about it. Come, we'll have glasses round, and part friends. Three more glasses, do you hear I'll pay for them."

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"Oh! Lord bless us! How sharp you is," muttered the old woman, a second time, as she poured out the ale.

"Dash my vorsted vig, an' vot's your name, sir?" said old Harry.

"Me! My name is Anthony Spence."

"Then Mr. Tony, 'ere's to yer werry good 'elth, sir. Shake flippers, an' hexcuse my leetle jokes."

"No gammon, you know. What are you driving at now, eh?" said Tony.

"No gammon it is. Here Bill, take in yer ballast, man."

"Here's luck," said Bill, gulping down his ale.

Harry and Bill paid for the two glasses which they had previously had, and then offered to conduct Tony to an excellent lodging house, where they strongly recommended him to stay.

Mrs. Elliot, who kept these lodgings, was a most respectable woman. She was a loud talker, and a decided enemy to all drunkenness and

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disorderly conduct. What was particularly praiseworthy in her, was the clever way in which she managed the business affairs, and money matters of her lodgers; inducing the careless ones to save, introducing the unfortunate to the more fortunate, and skilfully working all things together, so that in a short time her lodgers became a happy family.

On the twenty-fourth of April, it was our lot to fall in with poor Tony, in a much more colonial shape, at Mrs. Elliot's, in company with a man who, in the following pages, will bear the name of Charlie, and with another, called Sam. It was tea time, and several other persons were assembled at the table; but the conversation was chiefly carried on by Mrs. Elliot, and these three, two of whom, together with the aforementioned Harry and Bill, formed the crew of the "Mary Ira," a schooner whose voyage to the South Sea Islands, we propose to narrate. The third, Sam, a man of much higher quality than would be supposed from his appearance and conversation, had taken a

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passage in her, for a district further to the north of New Zealand, called Waikari, where he intended to settle, and where the Captain had agreed to set him down.

"Well," said Mrs. Elliot, addressing a light complexioned, stoutly made young man, who sat at the other end of the table, dressed in a somewhat too stylish attire, "Well, you've been quick back again, Charlie! What have you brought in the schooner this time? You've got me some more Kumara (sweet potatoes), I hope, eh?"

"N-n-no mum, I ain't," replied Charlie, who had an awkward habit of stuttering over his initial letters, and of repeating in an odd, angry, sort of way, the last few words of his sentences. "N-n-no mum, I ain't; the skipper h-he only t-took h-her up as f-far as Emlee's m-mills, f-for a load of s-sawn t-timber. Mr Emlee s-seems n-now, very w-well off indeed--very w-well off, indeed."

"Ah! I daresay he does," said Mrs. Elliot.

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"Well, to be sure; and I, as knew him when he was as poor as a rat, and now, let me tell you, he's as rich as a Jew, every bit; and a fine Jew he is, if he's been a going on as he began; and I, as remembers all about it, as if it had took place yesterday, just the same, for he came to me a few days after and told me all about it, as he was a sipping of his shandy-gaff, in this here very room. Oh! he was a sad rascal, was Emlee; for you see, though he had some money, he didn't scarcely know what to be up to with it, till, at last, he takes up with a chum, and buys a small bit of a boat as could sail, and then he goes creeping along, up the coast, and into the creeks, and the rivers, and all sorts of places, and buys from the natives, fish, and kumara and fruit; and sometimes, he gets hold of some kauri gum or some pigs. Well, he comes to a piece of land as would suit him first-rate, and the chief, as owned it, comes down to see whatever he was after a doing with his boat. Emlee takes him aside, and asks him, very grave-like,

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if he owned any land. The chief, he circles his hand round his head like this, and says, all the land which he sees is his, and he makes a great fool of himself, a trying to look very big and grand. Emlee is wondrously purlite, and lights the chiefs pipe for him, and then says, 'Lors! now! ye looks like a great chief. You've got a lot of gold, I daresay.' 'No,' says he, 'I arn't got none.' 'No gold! --oh! then you ain't nothing of a chief.' And he bursts out a laughing in his face, and pats his head, and pulls him by the beard, and then sits down, and turns his back upon him, just as if he warn't nobody at all. The chief, he looks precious angry, and walks very deliberate-like away, and Emlee, he gets his things into the boat and comes back to Auckland. Well, he comes here, and he draws out forty pounds of his money, and he goes about a changing the sovereigns into half sovereigns. I couldn't think whatever he was after, a plaguing me, and everybody else, for his half-sovereigns. At last, he gets his eighty pieces of

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gold, and he puts them into a nice bag of scarlet cloth, and he goes back to the chief. The chief doesn't come down to visit him, so he sends him a present of tobacco, and a message to come on very partikler business. He lays a blanket on the ground, and he sits down with his bag of gold under his arm. At last, the chief comes down, a smoking the tobacco, and, after some time, without either of them saying a blessed word, Emlee takes the scarlet bag from under his arm, and he opens it wide, and takes up handfuls of gold, and pours it backwards and forwards into the bag. The chief looks at the gold, and his sparkling eyes begin to glitter again. He stretches out his hand towards it, at last; but Emlee puts it all up again in the bag, though he keeps a chinking of it inside the bag now and again. After he had played with him some time, the chief must have the gold, and asks 'What he'd take for it?' Emlee says the land round about must be given to him. Well, would you believe it? he got all that land, the

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chief a thinking he had eighty pounds for it, instead of only forty pounds, in half sovereigns --and very much vexed he was to find out his mistake."

"Ah! well, Mrs. Elliot," said the stout, determined-looking little man, who went by the name of Sam, "that was all very well in those days; but them things can't be done now. All the native lands have to be bought in by the Government, before they can pass into the hands of individuals; and the more's the pity, say I, for these Maories don't know what to do with the land they've got."

"Y-you s-speaks quite f-feelingly, S-sam, on that there s-subject. Y-you'd better s-sleep a-board her t-to-night, f-for we're off the f-fust thing t-to-morrow, at sunrise, ain't we, Tony? or, m-may be, y-you won't get any d-darned bit of l-land at all, either good or b-bad--either good or b-bad."

"Well, to be sure!" said Mrs. Elliot; "then you're off to-morrow, are you, Sam? Well, I'm

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sure, I hope you'll get a good piece of land up at Waikari. Mind you give me a lock of your hair, Charlie; it's all that'll remain of you, you may be sure. I can't think whatever your skipper's up to, a going to those islands. He's sure to be took by the natives. The schooner's too small for that distance, now, mark my words. I'll tell you what, Sam, while you're aboard of her, just persuade him to leave it all alone, and come back here. What are you up to along with my scissars, Tony?"

"Only obeying you, mum; here's a lock of Charlie's seaweed," replied Tony, who, it seems, had operated on his friend's head with such sleight-of-hand as to have already secured a good handful of hair. Tony made an immediate bolt through the doorway, and was quickly followed by Charlie, who, as he made his exit, muttered,

"D-dash y-your y-young eyes, y-you bloated young thief; I guess I'll make you stop

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them cussed tricks of yours--stop them cussed tricks of yours."

"Charlie's off, Mrs. Elliot; and as the schooner starts to-morrow morning, at sunrise, I shall sleep on board her. Good night," said Sam, who repaired for the night to the "Mary Ira," that lay at anchor in the beautiful, but insecure, harbour of Auckland.

She was rather a curious little vessel, 16 tons register, built of Kauri pine, justly celebrated for its great lightness and strength. Her spars were cut from some of the more supple species of the New Zealand timber. Her masts were somewhat rakish; but her bows were too bluff, her waist too short, and her build altogether too clumsy to be at all compatible with good sailing qualities. A practised eye would have discovered, at the first glance, that she had been built by an amateur, or, at all events, by some one who had not at hand all the various appliances necessary to the art of ship-building. Though not, ap-

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parently, a good sailor, she seemed, nevertheless, to have been built with an eye to sea-going qualities, for she showed a comparatively bold side, strong and high bulwarks, and a bow which, as being the broadest part of her, seemed sufficiently massive to divide and force down the most angry of seas. She had been built by an old whaler, who had married a converted Maori girl, and she bore her name, the "Mary Ira." The only thing at all remarkable about her rig was her square sail yard, which seemed a great deal too long for her. A sea-faring man would have, however, explained this, by the supposition that she was about to make a deep sea voyage, and that her captain had probably provided himself with this spar, in order to "carry on" through the regions of the trade-winds. He had only lately purchased her. The ostensible object of the present voyage was to supply a firm at Newcastle (N. S. W.) with sulphur, from the volcano on the Island of Tana; but since he was far from being sure of the quality of the

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sulphur, or of being able to obtain it from the natives--a fierce and difficult race to deal with-- he proposed also to visit some of the neighbouring islands at the same time. As might be expected, he found it difficult to procure a crew willing to go with him in so small a craft, to such a distance, who were, at the same time, possessed of the needful qualifications. However, after some searching, he succeeded in picking up four men.

Harry was a spare, meagre, old man, over sixty years of age, with a few grey hairs tumbled over his bald pate. As a whaler, he had visited many of the islands of the South Pacific, and knew the coast of Australia well, having also served in an Australian vessel. He professed to understand the process of curing trepang; but, in this matter, he turned out to be, like the whale he had so often assisted to kill, a terribly hard "blower." But, notwithstanding his blowing-- and we are sorry to have to add, his drinking and growling--he was a glorious old sea-dog,

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active and wiry, and with a heart of oak, full of pertinacious courage, and of a cool impertinence, when surrounded with dangers, which seemed to bid almost a blasphemous defiance to the raging powers of nature. He was simple in his self-conceit, amusingly transparent, and, we might say, strangely reverential to religious subjects, except when abominably blasphemous, for he was regretful, if not repentant, at odd moments, and would half whimper, like a foolish child, too weak for the reformation of his own bad propensities. Strange anomaly!--that one, who so coolly asserted dominion over the elements of God, should exhibit so great an inferiority to the animal kingdom in self-government. He had a long tongue, and was ever attempting to keep the other men in subjection, by right of his post as mate, though, without much effect, as he could not control himself. But, if he did not do much for the crew, he was eminently successful as regards the vessel. Like all old seamen, he took a pride in her at once, and the captain himself

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seemed somewhat astonished, to the no small inward satisfaction of the old man, at the clever little makeshifts he constantly put into practice while clearing away and putting the ship in seagoing order.

Bill was a man-of-war's man, who swore through thick and thin that he had served under Captain Semmes, in the "Alabama," which he had left for some unfathomable reason; but nothing--not even drink--could ever so far prevail over his discretion, as to induce him to reveal the great secret. He had, moreover, been cast away for some years on Bank's Island, one of the Solomon group; and he asserted that he understood thoroughly well half-a-dozen, at the least, of the various Malay dialects. He had stipulated to remain behind at any promising island, provided the natives appeared friendly, for the purpose of organising a trading station.

Charlie was a strong, stout seaman, apparently self-opinionated, but, in reality, only self-reliant. He had been a ship's rigger originally, then a

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boatswain on board a Bombay ship, and had also been in several Yankee coasters, so that he was, on the whole, a great acquisition, not only from his thorough knowledge of ship-rigging, but also from his experience in sailing small crafts. Of this experience he was so proud, that he was perpetually trying to prove that he could do everything to the ship, and make the ship do everything he required of her, better than anybody else. Hence resulted innumerable arguments sufficiently ridiculous to form a source of perpetual amusement to those not immediately engaged in the controversy.

Tony was a short, active, little Welchman. Since his arrival in New Zealand, and acquaintance with old Harry, he had, like many others, made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain suitable employment, but having quickly spent all the little money he had brought out with him (in which expenditure he was materially assisted by Harry and his mate Bill), he had eventually shipped in the Mary Ira as cook and ordinary

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seaman. Having gained his colonial experience, he was now let alone by the old hands, and thus had recovered his spirits and energy, which occasionally found vent in practical jokes, not always conducive to the harmony of the others.

Sam was a short, brown man. He called himself a "Rock Scorpion," having somehow tumbled into existence on the rock of Gibraltar. He was not quite clear himself, as to his parentage. He was probably a cross between a Portuguese and some other race, but it would be difficult to say whether Italian, French, or English. He had lived for many years knocking about Australia. Fortune had smiled upon him at last, and he had gained a small sum of money, with which he proposed to purchase land in New Zealand and settle. Having been unable hitherto to meet with a suitable allotment, he was now about visiting a fresh block of land which had been purchased by the Provincial Government from a Maorie Chief, named "John the Baptist," and thrown open to public competition.

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