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Monday, March 3, 2014

The whaleship's sad tale

After the playful encounter with the whaleship Walker, Mrs. Reid of the East Indiaman Friendship relates the stirring account that the captain and the surgeon brought on board.

[July 1800] Mutual civilities were then exchanged, and the captain of the Walker came on board us to supper, but quite altered in his looks since we saw him at Sydney. He was hardly able to come up the ship’s side from weakness, in consequence of a severe wound which he had received in the breast about three weeks before, in an encounter with the savages of Egmont Island where he lost three of his people, and two more who had been wounded were not expected to live. 

It appeared that after he left Port Jackson he intended to go to the northward, by the way of the Philippine Isles, and stretch over to the coast of America to look for sperm whales, but scurvy beginning to shew itself among his seamen, he was induced to call at Egmont Island, in order to procure as many cocoa-nuts, as possible; they could find no anchorage at the place where they touched, but seeing plenty of cocoa-nut trees on shore, and also a number of natives, they manned and armed one of their boats, the captain, accompanied by the chief mate, went in her, leaving the ship in charge of the doctor and a junior mate. As they came near the shore numbers of the natives beckoned to them to land. Seeing the islanders appear friendly and unarmed, the captain and a party were induced to land, leaving the boat in charge of three men, desiring them to be very civil to the natives.

The party on shore had but a few yards to walk to the coca-nut trees, but without advancing, pointed to them, shewing several trifles by way of barter; the natives then gave their visitors some nuts, but instead of offering to go up the trees for me, pointed to them, as much as to say, If you want them you may take them.

On this apparent invitation, two of the seamen ascended the trees, and soon cut down all the nuts on them. At this stage of the intercourse much muttering and signs of anger broke out amongst the natives; several, after betraying the most savage looks, suddenly disappeared. At this crisis the people were ordered down from the trees, and the whole party desired to keep close together for mutual support.  Many of the inhabitants now shewed themselves, armed with spears and bows and arrows, and it was their manifest intention to cut the strangers off from the boat. The three men stationed in the boat had the greatest difficulty in keeping her from being pulled ashore by the savages, who had taken out several things by force, and were endeavouring to seize the muskets.

The concourse of natives increased in an alarming degree. At last the party joined the boat, but a number of the natives got hold of the painter, and would have hauled her ashore had not the man in the bow cut it. At his moment a flight of arrows was discharged amongst them, which wounded two men; the party now found themselves compelled to fire upon the savages; one man they saw drop, and others appeared to be wounded. Regardless of this, a number of the natives rushed into the water after the boat, charging with their spears, one of which wounded the captain, while, from distant assailants, arrows were flying so fast and thick as to wound every man in the boat (the mate excepted). Notwithstanding this dismaying obstacle to their retreat, the party providentially effected it.

As all were engaged as getting the boat as fast as possible from the shore, but few shots were fired; the horrid yells of some hundreds of these savages when they commenced hostilities were most appalling. There were now only three men able to handle an oar, fortunately they were not followed by canoes, or they must all have been immolated, so diminished was their power of resistance. To augment their consternation, they heard a gun from the ship, which was hid from their sight by a point of land. They at first concluded she had run aground, or had been overtaken by some other great disaster. However, on doubling the point, they were relieved from these apprehensions by seeing the ship some distance from the land, but at the same time observed a number of canoes paddling very fast from her towards the shore. As soon as the captain, with his wounded companions, got alongside, and could be taken into the ship, they were informed, that shortly after they had left her to go on shore, a number of canoes approached her from the island. 

Portions of the crews paddling there, are some persuasion, came alongside, and subsequently on board, to the number of 18 or 20 individuals; no apprehensions were entertained respecting their intentions, until a goat was seized by a native and thrown overboard, when presently, as if a concerted signal had been given, they began throwing overboard everything they found loose about the decks, which the others, in the canoes, as readily picked up.

As the surgeon told the tale, the few Europeans on board were quite taken aback, for having seen the natives come alongside unarmed, they relied that their intentions were friendly, while they had no other disposition themselves than to cultivate an amicable correspondence in the absence of the captain. But now, in the midst of this return for courtesy, forbearance on our parts was out of the question; commencing reluctant war, the seamen thumped the trespassers with broomsticks, and anything they could get hold of, but nothing proved so effectual as the cook’s scalding water, which he dealt out on their naked skins with such good effect, as made them jump directly overboard. They appeared quite at home in the water, and soon reached their boats; they were most anxious after live stock; the few fowls and ducks within the coops had stood a poor chance, if the plunderers had known how to get them out readily.

The surgeon observed that the most formidable quadruped which the savages had encountered on board, was a large Tom-cat, which was sitting quietly as usual near the main hatch; when Tom found himself seized by one of the natives in such a rough manner, he applied his weapons of defence so well, that the blood streamed from the arms of his assailer, who quitted his hold, glad to let his intended prize escape.  Those in the ship then fired a gun, as well to intimidate the natives in the canoes, as to give a signal to the captain on shore. It was thought that the arrows were poisoned, as the three poor fellows who died suffered great agonies. The foregoing is founded on the reports of Capt. Nicholl and his surgeon of this distressing affair.

The Walker was thus rendered short of hands; two of ours volunteered to join her crew, which they were permitted to do, as we had more men on board then our complement. 

1 comment:

Antoine Vanner said...

A fascinating account and many thanks for unearthing and publishing it!