Mrs. R. continues her journey on the Friendship through exotic islands and shores.
[July 1800]The land hereabout was clothed with verdure to the water’s edge. We had no communication with the shore that evening, but during the night were serenaded with many different and harmonious notes of the feathered tribe, as well as with the mixed under tones of many humming insects; the ship lying so near the shore, and the night being still, the least noise could be heard amongst the trees.
Next morning a proa came alongside, with a chief and six paddlers. When he came on board, he immediately recognized the captain, and was most happy to see him, saying, everything in his power should be done to assist in getting the ship watered, &c. This person was an Imaum, or Mahometan priest: he might be about forty-five years of age; had a commanding countenance, which with his long white beard gave him a respectable appearance. He ordered some very fine pine-apples and plantains to be brought from the proa, with sago-bread, in the shape of little square cakes. The latter were not much relished, being of a dry nature; but the pine-apples were a great treat, having a most delicious flavour.
In the afternoon two large armed proas were seen coming into the harbour; but kept at a distance until we shewed English colours. When they directly entered, and came close to our ship. They were from Papua, or New Guinea. The chief men were Malays, but the others resembled the negroes, except that the air or wool on the head was frizzled out like a large black wig, twice the size of the head; and a most ferocious look they had.
These boats carried swivels, mounted behind a barricade, with loop-holes to fire through. They were trading vessels, but it was said they would plunder if a chance offered. We got some nutmegs, mace, and beautiful birds of paradise from them, in exchange for crockery, hatchets, and cloth; they very much wanted gunpowder, but that demand was not complied with. They had been at first afraid we were Dutch, which made them hesitate entering the harbour, until they saw our colours; observing, as they told us this, that the Dutch were their greatest enemies. The people on shore were glad when the proa went away, saying, if we had not been there they should have been plundered by them.
I had often heard that the birds of paradise lived in the air, and could not approach the earth without certain death; that they had no feet, nor any terrestrial habits. However, those we procured from these people had not only feet, but claws like a parrot. The Malays informed us that these animals come to Papua at certain seasons, like birds of passage, and are snared. We had three different kinds, the straw-coloured, the yellow, and the crimson; the latter are by far the handsomest; these are called the rajah or king birds: our specimens measured about nine inches in length, the body not thicker than a goldfinch, and the plumage of a most beautiful crimson, scarlet, and green colour. They had two quills projecting about seven inches from the tail; these quills appeared as if stripped of the feathers, until at the extreme end, which was curled up about the size of a small daisy, tinged with the most delicate colours imaginable. The yellow birds, although beautiful, were very inferior to the rajahs.
The nutmeg is very plentiful here, notwithstanding what is said to the contrary; the natives brought us the fruit upon branches, in all its stages, from the size of an olive to that of a peach upon the twig. The nut, when bursting the pulp or rind, and shewing the bright red mace over the shell, is exceedingly beautiful. I procured plenty in this state, and had them preserved in clarified syrup of sugar. The captain did not go into the woods this time, but I have heard him say that when here formerly as an officer, within an hour’s walk from the shore he has counted upwards of an hundred trees bearing fruit.
There were several large proas, or corra-corras, which arrived from several parts of the same island to trade while we remained; they had plenty of spices, which they readily exchanged with us for cloth, &c.; but were particularly fond of some Scotch plaid. If we had had plenty of the same commodity on board, it would have turned to good account; indeed, the captain bartered all the merchanize he had for spices; and my small wardrobe of old apparel came in for a share. We found the Malays at this place very honest and fair dealing people. We were supplied with plenty of fruit, fish, and turtle, while we staid. They were afraid to take their trade to Amboyna, on account of pirate proas which infested those seas; and if any ship were so unfortunate as to get on shore, it was sure to be plundered, and the crew murdered by those vultures. This was the case with a ship under Danish colours, going through Dampier’s Straits to China, the year before.
One night we were alarmed by the firing of two muskets from the forecastle of our ship; two proas were observed approaching, beating upon an instrument, and singing what was thought to be a war-song; notwithstanding they were challenged from the ship, they still advanced. Immediately on the muskets being fired, the captain went upon deck, and as he understood the Malays pretty well, soon found they were friends, and invited them alongside; when three chiefs came on board, and sent the proas away from the ship; one of them was an old friend of the captain’s, named Twan-Allie. His master, Sultan Newkoo, of Tidore, had dispatched him to collect tribute at the different ports of Messa, Weda, and Osso, which was paid in spices.
It was very soon understood that he wanted some presents for his master, as also for himself. Captain R. gave him, in the presence of the other chiefs, a handsome pair of pistols, a sword, and a dirk, with four cannisters of gunpowder for the Sultan. They wished the ship to go to Tidore, saying, that the Sultan had plenty of cloves and other spices, which she wished to part with. This, however, was out of the question, as we were not prepared for traffic.