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Friday, March 14, 2014

Mrs. R. sails through the Spice Islands

On the morning of the 18th July [1800] we left Osso, and proceeded on our voyage, passing between an island called Pulo Moor [Muor Island] and Polut Potanny [Batek Island]. Next day we saw the island Oby Major [Obi Island], and sailed between that and Pulo Gassas [Gag Island]; then were observed the islands of Ceram [Seram] and Booros [Buru], which we passed upon our left Amboyna [Ambon] is situated a little to the south of these islands, but being out of our track we did not see it.

On the 25th we saw the island of Bootan [Butung]; at which place, when my husband was there in the Cornwallis, and in charge of a watering party, they would have been murdered, had not the treacherous design been discovered by one of the seamen, who understood the Malay language, he overhearing a conference between the Malays, who were all armed, and very numerous. He learnt that their first proposition was to massacre the boat’s crew, and then attack the ship. But this was overruled by a chief, who observed, that if they could the next day entice the boat’s crew to come again for water, that the ship’s company would be more off their guard, and more easily overpowered. A Malay, who spoke a little Dutch, enquired, in pursuit of this scheme, if the ship wanted any more water: it was answered that there was very little on board, and it would take three days to complete the watering. This reply induced them to allow the boat to proceed on board, not suspecting that their evil intentions were known. On the boat’s return, the unpleasant discovery was communicated to the captain: the Malays were then instantly ordered out of the ship; and no time was lost in leaving a place where so much danger was to be apprehended. There were upwards of twenty war proas counted in the river, mounting from four to six guns, and capable of containing from thirty to forty men in each. Fortunately for the Cornwallis’s people, it was low water when she sailed, and most of the proas were aground.

Reid's log of the Marquis Cornwallis at Butung SLNSW

Leaving Bootan on our right, we passed through the Straits of Saylair [Flores Strait], and next day saw a most dangerous shoal, called the Brill, upon which part of the wreck of a ship was visible, with three large pirate proas at anchor to leeward of it. The ship’s head being turned towards them, they doubtless thought we were coming to reconnoitre: they instantly got under weigh, set their sails, and made off as fast as possible; after which we altered our course, and stood on, so as to clear the shoal. It being very fine weather, we passed within a few miles of the Brill; it appeared like a large white patch in the midst of the blue water, the white coral shewing the danger under the surface. The Friendship did not delay her progress by sending a boat to examine the wreck, as only some of the ribs or timbers were seen above water. At this time the high land of the island Celebes was in sight.

From July 27 until August 3, was occupied in passing through the dangerous Java Sea: and during this time we had seen the great island of Borneo on our right, of which the animal nearest in likeness to the human species is a native, namely, the Orn-Outang [orang-utan], or man of the woods, according to the Malay language. There are also great quantities of gold dust procured at Borneo; but all ships trading with the inhabitants must be continually on the watch, and well armed, as one chief who barters the gold may employ another to way-lay the European party, and these, if overpowered, are sure to be murdered; too many instances of this have occurred to vessels trading amongst the Malays.

We had now reached the east entrance of Singapore Straits. On the 4th we were gratified by the sight of a ship coming out of them as we were entering; she proved to be the Lowjee Family, from Bombay, bound to China, with a cotton cargo. They informed us that many privateers were in the India Seas, and that some had been seen in the Straits; that the Arniston, Indiaman, had nearly been taken by one off Bencoolen. This information made our captain prepare for a defence, and put on as formidable an appearance as possible. The ship had but twelve guns mounted, but ports below for twenty-four: the vacant ports were filled with what the sailors called quakers, namely, wooden guns painted, which made her show at a distance as if she had upwards of thirty guns mounted.

It was very pleasant sailing through these Straits, having the land very near us both sides of us, covered with wood to the water’s edge.

Mrs.R.'s "Pulo" is from the Malay, "pulau," island.

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