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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mrs. R. in the Solomon Islands

In which the Friendship has more native encounters, and Mrs. R. suffers a sad loss

[June 1800] Prior to leaving Port Jackson, Governor Hunter requested my husband, if he passed near Stewart’s Islands, to ascertain whether they were inhabited, saying that he was at too great a distance when he first discovered and named them in 1791 to make any observation; hence, as they lay in the ship’s track, they were looked out for. 

On Thursday, the 5th of June, we saw and approached them; they appeared to be a small cluster of low islands. Three were counted from the deck, and five from the mast-head. We observed one more elevated than the rest, which was named Mount Hunter, in honour of the first discoverer.

We saw much smoke from different parts, and several canoes passing from one isle to another; about noon a number of canoes came toward the ship, each carrying from five to eight persons; these were unarmed, and came close to the ship, staring at the masts and hull, with the greatest surprise and wonder. They appeared small muscular men, of sun-burnt complexion, having some sort of cloth round their waist; their hair was tied in a bunch behind. Signs were made to draw them close alongside, and little articles held out for them to accept; but for a considerable time they took no notice of these overtures; at length, a tall, fine looking old man, with a white beard, stood up in one of the canoes, and began talking very loud, often bending his body as if in the act of lifting something up; at the same time pointing to the shore, inviting us, as we thought, to land.

When he had done, some light things were dropped by the fishing-lines astern, which one canoe ventured to take; after which, several boats came round, to observe what was received. Presently a boat with five men paddled up to the main channel, and threw in two cocoa-nuts, and then paddled hastily away. At this stage, an accident happened, which put a stop to all farther intercourse. A canoe had hold of the line, to take something off, which the hook caught in the hand of the man who held the line; with a horrid yell he tore the hook out of the flesh, and all instantly quitted us; after which, no overture could induce them again to come near.

Their canoes appeared about twenty-five feet long, with out riggers fixed to one side to balance them. Many natives were seen on shore. We were very sorry that they had left us with bad impression, as we thought them to be a friendly good people. No doubt, were a communication established, ships might find many refreshments here, as abundance of coco-nut trees were seen from the Friendship. These island lie in latitude 8° 12’ south, and longitude about 163° east.
Next morning we saw Solomon’s Island on our left. We soon after passed between that and Gower’s Island, so named by Capt. Carteret. Gower’s Island appeared small, and we soon lost sight of it, but Solomon’s Island is of great extent, as we had it in view for three days, in which time the ship ran upwards of three hundred miles to the north-west; however there might be more islands than one, as several extensive openings were seen.

On the 9th of June, we described the straits of Bouganville on our left, but entered a new passage between Anson’s and Bouganville Islands, which was found safe. While we were proceeding toward St. George’s Channel, so named by Capt. Carteret, who first sailed through it in 1767, six canoes came from Bougainville Island towards the ship, with about eight or ten men in each; they came alongside with confidence, and appeared to know something of traffic; readily exchanging bows, arrows, and spears, shells, necklaces, and ornaments from their arms and legs, for handkerchiefs, empty bottles, &c.

The Bouganville Islanders are small in stature, very dark, with frizzled hair. We observed a number of people on shore. While all the ship’s crew were busy in traffic at the gangway, the steward being in the cabin, heard a noise at the rudder-chains, and looking out, saw a native very busy, taking the fore-cock from the shackle; he had swam from one of the canoes, and would not desist when called to. The steward had a kettle of boiling water in the cabin, which he took to the window, and with it threatened the fellow, who would not understand him; however, a little of the scalding water very soon made him desist, for he instantly jumped into the water, and kept at a respectful distance, swimming about until taken into a canoe.

After laying to for about an hour, the ship stood on her course. No persuasion could induce any of these natives to enter the ship, although a number of boats were still coming off, and followed us until we came near Anson’s Island, when they all returned. We saw many natives, in groups, upon Anson’s Island; but no boats came off from it; we supposed that they were not upon good terms with their neighbours. We found the weather vey hot, but all the crew were in the best health; no doubt the fresh meals which the ship’s stores furnished them, and plenty of water, great contributed thereto. This day my poor kangaroo fell down the hatchway and broke its back; I had hoped to take it safe to England. Its innocent pranks, playing about the cabin and steerage, were often a source of amusement to the officers, who felt its loss as much as I did.

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