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Friday, February 28, 2014

Captain R. plays a trick on Captain Nicholls of the whaleship Walker

On the 10th June [1800] our track was to the left of several small islands; Next morning we saw Cape St. George, the south-eastern extremity of New Ireland; we kept the coast on our right, at the distance of three or four miles: every part appeared to be covered with trees, of several species, some of which were tall and stately, particularly on the ridges of hill seated inland. The shore, on many points, was seen to be rocky. No natives were observed here—about noon we descried Cape Orford, the eastern extremity of New Britain. From this to Cape St. George, the distance was supposed to be about forty miles, both being seen at the same time, forming the entrance to St. George’s Channel, up which we proceeded, having the land on both sides of us, giving to the entrance of the strait the appearance of a large river. The weather was fine; we had a delightful view of both shore, with their fertile valleys, and gracefully sloping uplands, where, possible in after ages, when the tenants of this wild shall become civilized the plough may prepare yellow trophies for the sickle, and bleating flocks and lowing herds diversify the landscape with symbols of cultivation and weather, as in the beautiful hills and dales of Old Britain and Ireland.

As we approached the coast of New Britain, we saw several boats, but none approached near the ship until the evening, when a canoe, having an out-rigger, and eleven people on board, came within about a cable’s length of us, where they lay gazing at the ship for some time; handkerchiefs were held up to draw them alongside, of which they took no notice. One of the men who stood up in the canoe, appeared tall, well made, and of a dark complexion. We for some time had thought that they had red and white turbans on their heads; but at length discovered that their hair, which was woolly and frizzled, was covered with a sort of red powder like ochre on one side, and with a kind of lime or chalk on the other; other individuals were seen with the hair all red, and others with it all white. Nothing could entice them alongside. The canoe could paddle very fast; we did not suppose that any of our boats could overtake it if a trial had been made. As it drew near dark, they paddled round the ship very briskly, until coming to their first station, between the ship and the land, they stopped and blew something like smoke or dust from their hand left to the mouth, and let fly some arrows at the ship (which did not reach us) and quickly retired towards the shore. The audacity of their New Britons could easily have been checked by firing a shot over them; but the captain did not wish to intimidate them from again approaching a ship; and preferred a course of lenity to resentment for acts indicating their disposition to be hostile.

We made little progress in the night, having light winds; meanwhile we descried several fires in New Britain, but none in New Ireland, and concluded that the latter was but thinly inhabited. Next morning we saw the Duke of York’s Island, lying nearly in the middle of the channel, which we thought should have been called the New Isle of Man, in correspondence with its relative situation. On the land of New Britain we noticed three remarkable hills, which have the shape of sugar loaves; one of which was much loftier than the other two; they had hence been called the Mother and her Daughters by Captain Carteret. They look as if they had been thrown up by a volcano, and we had no doubt but it had been so, for a little farther inland we observed smoke continually issuing from a hill which nearly resembles the cones just mentioned; several patches appeared like land under cultivation.

As we proceeded, a number of canoes was observed, coming from the Duke of York’s Island. They came boldly on to the ship, singing, and playing upon an instrument of hollow reeds in the form of the Pandean pipes. They held out bunches of plantains and cocoa nuts. Many articles were exhibited to them for barter, but nothing pleased them so much as red and white cloth. The captain cautioned our people to barter fairly, and to take nothing without making a return. There were at one time upwards of 30 canoes about the ship. The seamen having got a plentiful supply of plantains and cocoa nuts, had finished bartering, when the captain shewed some narrow red and white buntin, with some of my old ribbons, at sight of which, all the natives in the different canoes appeared most anxious to possess these treasures, pointing to the shore, and by signs intimating a wish for us to stop until they returned with a fresh supply of fruit and other native produce.

Their boats glided to the land, and so anxious were the companies of natives to possess he pieces of buntin, they they were quarrelling as to which of them threw fruit, yams, &c. into the ports. However, all got some of our rags in exchange for a plentiful supply of yams, &c. They were satisfied, and so were we. They took old knives and pieces of iron hoops in exchange, but did not set any value upon them. Glaring colours of red and white cloth attracted them most, there were from five to twelve men in the different sized boats; they had spears, bows, and arrows with them, but appeared to have such confidence in us, that we conceived they were placed in their boats more in readiness to repel an attack from their hostile neighbours, than from any apprehension from us.

As there was a fine commanding breeze, the ship drifted slowly between the satellite isle of New Man and the Island of New Britain. Perhaps the Phoenicians, when they first discovered Britain, and had intercourse with our rudely painted forefathers, might think of the latter with mingled commiseration, contempt, and dawning hope, as we did of these poor savage people. The captain wishing to get clear of the channel before dark, made sail from the lessening coast of these fair dealing men. In passing the opposite territory of New Britain, we saw Port Hunter, where the Waaksemheyd had watered. Several openings led us to suppose, that where New Britain is placed there were more islands than one, particularly as some canoes went in at one opening and came out at another. We observed a number of people on a projecting point of land, holding up bunches of plantains, cocoa-nuts, and yams, but we, having a sufficiency, did not bring to; at the same time a number of canoes were following the ship from different parts. As we proceeded we still perceived patches in the ravines that appeared under cultivation.

Just as we cleared the Duke of York’s Island, we were surprised to see a ship following us. We were nearly becalmed, but she having a fine breeze came near enough before dark for us to discover that it was the Walker south seaman, which sailed from Port Jackson about three weeks before us. They could not see our colours, the ship’s head being towards them. As it was quickly dark, it was thought we should have no communication until morning; however, about eight in the evening, we heard the boats’ oars towing their ship towards us, and presently voices of individuals in their crews conversing, the night being still—at length the captain of the Walker hailed us, saying, “What ship is that pray?” by which we knew that they did not know us.

L’Amitié,” was answered. “From whence come you?” was the next question. Hollandez nuova was replied.  

“Who commands that ship,” was then demanded. “Capitaine Le Rouge.”

We then plainly overheard them, conversing together, say we were either French or Dutch.  However, not to keep them longer in suspense, our captain called aloud in English, “How do you do, Capt. Nicholl?” their commander returned, “Who is that?”

“Don’t you know the Friendship, Reid?” was rejoined. 

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