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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mrs. R. hears another spinechilling whaleship story

[July 1800] As Captain Nicholl was unacquainted with the navigation of these seas, he expressed a wish to keep company with the Friendship, until we came to the Cape of Good Hope in New Guinea; with which Captain R. concurred. He generally spent the day on board our ship in fine weather.

We had reason to suppose that the New Britons were cannibals, from the following circumstances. 

About a week prior to the Walker’s falling in with us, while she was off that coast, several of the canoes came from the shore; in one of which was a lad about sixteen, who was fairer than the rest. He seemed anxious to get on board the ship, but was restrained by two savages; at length they were enticed alongside, when this boy sprung up the side in the greatest agitation, and wished to run below. He spoke a language which the Walker’s company did not understand; but seeing a chart, which happened to be upon the capstan, he pointed towards Manilla and China. This convinced Captain Nicholl that the boy had been once in civilized society, and determined him to retain the youth on board, if to stay were agreeable to himself. Captain Nicholl then pointed to the canoes, which caused the poor boy to tremble all over; he then pointed down the hatchway the boy lost not a moment in descending below, where he remained until the canoes retired to the shore. 

This boy was brought on boar of us one day, when it was discovered that he understood the Malay language. Three people of that country we had on board, to whom he gave the following narrative of himself.

He said he was born on the island Mindanio; that when very little, he was sent on board a small ship with one mast, of which a China man was captain; that they went to many islands, getting things in exchange for cloth, long knives, &c. That the ship one night got on rocks, and was soon full of water; that there were three China men besides the captain; there were about fifteen persons in all on board. They left the wreck and went in the boat, and were many days in want of water; they landed at a place which he did not know, but were quickly set upon by savages. Some of his companions ran into the woods, and were murdered, and afterwards eaten by these people.  Two of the savages quarrelled about him; he thought one wanted to save, and the other intended to kill him. They struggled very much, and tore each other on the ground; many of the natives saw this, but did not meddle with them; he did not know whether one killed the other or not, for he was hurried on board a canoe, and taken to another place. 

After this he had many changes of masters, and did all they required of him. When he was asked how long it was since he fell into their hands, he could not tell; but said, he was so high, putting his hand to his breast; which made us conjecture that his captivity might begin about five years before he was taken on board the Walker. He told many strange and incredible stories, respecting his savage masters. We had no doubt of their being cannibals, for he affirmed they at times had nothing else to eat but human flesh, of which hunger made him glad to partake; which was served out in very small portions.

When the ship was first discerned from the shore, he told his masters that if they permit him to go on board, he would procured them many fine things, with which he would return. This induced them to comply with his request. In coming off in the canoe, he frequently trembled and shook very much, which was caused by the hope of escaping; they thought it was from fear, and asked him if the people on board would eat him. He said, “No, no, these people never eat man’s flesh, and that it was only cold which made him tremble.” The above heads of the boy’s account were interpreted by our Malay seamen, one of whom was very intelligent, having been brought up with a Europe-born Dutchman at Batavia.

On the 14th June [1800, at 4° 31’ south, 152° 33’ east] we cleared St. George’s Channel, and next day passed, on our right, a large lofty island, named after Lord Sandwich [Lavongai]. We had now frequent squalls, with rain, thunder, and lightning; a calm succeeded, which made it very tedious. 

We saw some large trees floating in the water, with abundance of fish about them. One day, it being nearly calm, when Captain Nicholl was on board wit us, a very strange fish was seen from the forecastle to pass under the ship’s bottom; it was afterwards perceived astern, having a number of pilot fish about it, which readily took bait from a small hook. Three of them were caught, and put into a bucket of water, where they soon died; they were the most beautiful little fish I had ever seen at sea, being striped round with red and white, like a zebra: they measured about nine inches in length, and were delicious when cooked. 

They are said to attend only the shark; but I rather think they hover about any large floating substance, as numbers were seen about the drift wood and trees. The monster gambolling amongst them was termed the Devil Fish, by Captain Nicholl’s people; it was not afraid of the ship, and at times came very close. It appeared to me like a very large overgrown skate, being nearly square; I reckoned it might occupy a space about the size of our main hatchway; they threw the fish-gig at it, which bounded off its back, breaking two of the prongs; it never came so near afterwards, and a breeze springing up, we saw no more of it.

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