In the afternoon [May 29, 1800] we passed two small low islands on our right, named the Brothers; also on on our left, covered with cocoanut trees. It was not thought probable that any inhabitants would be found on such a small spot, apparently not exceeding three miles in extent; but advertising to the possibility that there might be some, a boat was sent ashore to procure some cocoa-nuts, with strict orders that, if any natives were seen, not to land, but to return directly to the ship, which lay-to about a mile off.
When the boat drew near the shore, we observed a number of natives amongst the trees skirting a part of the island, hidden from the sight of our people in the boat. We counted upwards of 30 of these naked savages; they were all armed with long spears, and what we took for bows and arrows. They frequently ran out of sight among the trees, and came to view again in a cunning manner.
The captain now was very apprehensive that we should lose some of our men; the only signal agreed upon for ordering their prompt return to the ship was hoisting our ensign, and at that time the ship’s situation prevented them from seeing it. We observed the boat to lie a-back of the surf, and naturally concluded that they had seen the natives, and of course would not land. We saw one of the islanders separate from the rest and approach the boat; we was unarmed, but had something in his hand which he held up, beckoning our people to the land; he then put down what he held in his hand, and retired amongst the trees, where we saw him join the others, who were still in ambush concealed from the boat’s crew. Then two natives likewise unarmed approached the boat with some cocoa-nuts, which they held up; on this the boat appeared to pull up towards them. We were all very uneasy at observing this, as our party could not see the signal commanding their return.
Presently all the savages left their ambush, and ran towards the boat. Luckily a gun had been got ready, and was now fired; the report of which drew the attention of the natives to the ship, which it gave notice to our people, who fortunately had not landed. The firing, however, did not intimidate the savages, for they came close to the surf, brandishing their spears, and discharged their arrows at the boat, which happily did no mischief; whereupon, to let them know our superiority, a gun was shotted and fired amongst the trees over their heads. As soon as this was done, they turned suddenly round to look at the trees, amongst which the shot had done some execution, and instantly retired from the beach.
When the boat returned, Mr. Henderson, who went in command of her, said, the natives appeared black and small in stature, having woolly heads like Africans; that they did not see more than two natives until the gun was fired, then, he said, they were seen coming from amongst the bushes, making a wild noise, and letting fly arrows at the boat. One man among them was painted red, as if by ochre. Thus ended our transient intercourse with these perfidious people; and happy were all that no disaster had occurred. From the hostility of the inhabitants, and some coral rocks in the
vicinity, this was named Danger Island.
Having but little wind, our progress was slow; we were still in sight of the volcano. Saw to the south of us this afternoon Swallow Island, named by Capt. Carteret, who sailed in those seas in the year 1767; it appeared pretty high land, but too distant for accurate observation. Capt. Carteret found much hostility from the natives about these parts.
The weather now was very hot and sultry; the mercury sometimes standing as high as ninety degrees. We had much thunder, lightning, and rain; and several water-spouts passed near the ship. To us this phenomenon had the appearance of a long narrow smoky pillar let down from the clouds to the surface of the water, creating a white foam where the suction takes place, whirling round in a furious manner, but the vortex thus formed seems but a few yards in extent. Even to be involved in this is reckoned fatal to boats and small vessels; and the discharge of the column of water very dangerous to large ships, should it break upon their decks. The water first ascends to fill the cylinder. If a gun be fired near a water-spout, the vacuum caused by the explosion with disperse it. Several of our guns were made ready for this service, but were not needed.