Historical Records of New Zealand
General Evening Post, July, 27, 1771.—“An authentic account of the natives of Otahitee, or George’s Island, together with some of the particulars of the three years’ voyage lately made by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander in the years 1768, 1769, and 1770; being the copy of an original letter from——, on board the Endeavour, to his friend in the country:—
“We left Woolwich upon the 20th of July, 1768, and returned to the same place upon the same day in 1771. Our passage to Madeira was eighteen days. We left England on the 29th of August. The Endeavour, tho’ well contrived for stowage and a heavy sea, was, without exception, a very dull sailing vessel; to corroborate which you will not find eight knots an hour upon our log-book in the whole voyage. Upon this island Mr. Banks, by his great assiduity, discovered many rare and valuable plants, uncultivated, and even unknown to the Portugueze, particularly the mango. Being well supplied with wine, we steered for Cape Horne after a stay of five days, with no material occurrence but the death of a mate, who was drowned in heaving a kedge anchor out of the boat, by getting entangled page 11 in the coyle of the buoy rope. We had also a seaman killed, who fell into the hold and fractured his skull. Though we sailors do not look upon these calamities any more than common accidents, yet they wore an unfavourable aspect at our departure. When we had reached the length of Falkland Isles, we had a gale of wind which brought us under our mainsail, but not continuing very long, we soon came to crowd more sail, and stretched away for the Cape, where we expected very bad weather from the accounts of all the navigators who had been that voyage. However, we coasted along till we came to the pitch of Terra del Fuego, having the winds variable from W. N. W. to E. N. E., and when we had reached the point of that prodigious southern promontory with a fresh breeze, and one reef in our topsails, we stood to the southward into the latitude of 5 deg. 9 min. S., where, after a calm for a few hours, a breeze sprung up at S. S. W., and we doubled the Cape at two tacks; after which, to boast of such success, we even set topgallant steering-sails. We anchored at Terra del Fuego some time, and found the greatest hospitality from the natives, who by many things amongst them discovered plainly that they had an intercourse with Spanish America. Here we were prodigiously alarmed for Messrs. Banks and Solander, who, attended by two negroes and some of the ship’s crew, undertook to climb to the summit of a prodigious mountain upon this isle, leaving the ship about ten in the morning and promising to be back by dinner; but they did not return till the following morning, which made us have a thousand doubts for their welfare, concluding that they must be either cut off by the natives or devoured by the wild beasts. However, the following morning relieved us from all dismal apprehensions by their appearance. They informed us that they had been so prodigiously wearied by the ascent of the mountain, that the two negroes were dead of the fatigue, and that it was with the utmost difficulty they had saved Dr. Solander; for when they had attained about halfway of the ascent it was too far to retreat, and a wood above them promising some shelter they gained it with difficulty, and made a bower for Dr. Solander, who, after having some sleep, recovered his spirits to descend to the vallies. We did not continue long upon the island of Terra del Fuego before we pursued our voyage to Otahitee, which lies in about 17 deg. south latitude; for Fuego produced little more than fish. Upon our arrival the natives received us with much hospitality and joy, being now convinced from Captain Wallace’s* conduct we really meant to befriend them; in consequence of which we exchanged presents, and set up our residence with them for three months. We found a most intelligent man amongst page 12 them, who, upon all occasions, was our friend and interpreter, for we, by much application on our parts joined to his, became mutually tolerable judges of the two languages. This man, who was named Tobia (a kind of a savage priest), surprised us with the information of a large ship having been lately there, but she was departed westward, which, before his recital, we had some suspicion of, upon our discovering a number of European goods amongst them, particularly knives and other iron implements. To discover these adventurers we displayed all the European flags to Tobia, who immediately pitched upon the Spanish colours.
“This convinced us of a prior visiter, which was afterwards confirmed to us upon our arrival at Batavia. It was a French ship that had made this voyage upon observation or jealousy of our repeated visits to these seas, and, to disguise their scheme, had always appeared under Spanish colours. But to return to George’s Island. This island is about 30 leagues in circumference, of a circular form, situated amidst a number of other isles, some famed for turtle, fruits, or fish, but no other animals but hogs and dogs, which we devoured with great appetite, and found nothing equal to dog’s flesh but young lamb. The islanders are very expert in fishing, which they pursue for their daily sustenance, and cocoanuts, palm wines, plantains, the bread-tree, and some wild herbs is the only produce of this spot. The earth is sandy, and capable of producing corn, but amongst the variety of seeds and grains which we had carried out we could get nothing to grow but mustard and cresses, the seeds being certainly damaged by the length of time and the dryness of the air, or not properly packed up for so long an expedition. Their implements of war and agriculture are composed of wood and stone. A hatchet is made by tying a sharp flint stone upon a piece of wood, which cuts with uncommon sharpness; their fish-hooks are composed of mother of pearl, and their lines of women’s hair, which is strong, black, and long. They use bows and arrows, and javelins of wood, which they throw with uncommon dexterity, and will strike birds in the air or fishes in the sea with them.
“Their religion acknowledges one Supreme Being, whom they conceive to be too great to attend to the prayers of man. They, therefore, invoke him through mediators, who, they believe, are in general their great men departed. They don’t kneel to an image; they only offer up a sacrifice of everything they mean to partake of—saying, ‘Sure the Deity has a right to an offering of what he gave.’ Their burials are more singular than any other custom: when a man dies, he is placed upon a bier, and a shed is erected over him, made of leaves of trees; this mausoleum is placed very often near their houses, and page 13 though the body is in a disagreeable putrid state, they never seem to take any notice of the offensiveness; the corpse remains in this condition till the flesh is entirely consumed, and then the skeleton is interred in the burying-ground—which is done round with stones in the form of our country churchyards.
“The Origin of Man they believe to be from a chosen pair made by the great God, and that we are all descendants of them—that the Deity formed the earth of continents and isles—and that the Europeans who visit them are of the great land—but when that he had formed the sea, he towed the great earth by a string upon it, which going so quick, made many parts to break off, and those composed islands. Their women are of a copper colour, well made and well featured, with jet-black hair, which they always wear braided up with false hair. They wear a kind of cloth over their bodies, made from the cloth-tree, which is very thin, and not strong; but when they want it for warmth, they make many folds of it, and stick it together by gums; they have another kind, which they call mourning-cloth, stained with yellow on one side and brown on the other. They marry at nine and ten; they bear many children, and at twenty-two are old and ugly. A virgin is to be purchased here, with the unanimous consent of the parents, for three nails and a knife. I own I was a buyer of such commodities, and after some little time married one of my nut-brown sultanas, and then became so habituated to their manners and a hut that I even left my lady and the island with reluctance. They have but one fashion amongst them, which is of a singular outrée nature—and that is, of painting their posteriors of a jet black, which no woman is suffered to neglect. They are not very decent in their amours, having little regard to either place or person; this is not general amongst them, though it is often done and seen.
“Upon occasions of festivity the women dance in the most indecent manner, performing a thousand obscene gesticulations, like the Indostan dancing girls. The only instruments of music to divert them at these times are large drums, and flutes made of reeds, in the form of our common flute, which is played upon by the wind of the nose instead of the mouth.
“We passed more than three months with these people, and upon our departure two of them voluntarily solicited us to come to England. Tobia was one of these—a sober, discreet, intelligent man; from him we learnt the language, and an account of above forty more islands, which were contiguous to George’s Island. When we sailed from this isle we were in tolerable good health, but it was near three months before we reached New Zealand, in which passage we were at times greatly distressed for provisions. We sailed round New Zealand, where we found page 14 a clear coast and deep water, good bays and good rivers. Navigators before us have believed this to be a continent, but it is no more than seventy miles round, having another island to the southward, between which there is a good passage. Here we were worse treated than ever, the natives being so brave and so jealous of their rights that they would not suffer us to land, continually attacking our boats with stones and arrows whenever we attempted to approach the shore, which obliged us to fire often amongst them to convince them of our great superiority, by which many fell, and that created a general consternation amongst them. By these means we got conversations with them (they perfectly understanding the tongue of Tobia), and persuading them at least to accept of presents from us, and by bringing off a few and treating them well, it was with the utmost difficulty afterwards that we could get rid of them; two in particular, when we left the island, swam after the ship to sea, declaring they would be murdered by their countrymen upon their return for shewing such a partial attachment to us.
“These are a brave, warlike people, and tho’ we staid fourteen days at one part of the isle, yet, whenever we attempted to land at another, they always attacked us with great fury. They have one weapon of a strange construction, which, by turning it round very quick, produces a great smoak. This they always made use of; but we could not discover that anything issued out of it, or that it made any explosion.
“From hence we steered towards Batavia, and stopped at a small Dutch settlement in our passage, which had but one Dutchman upon it; but the island had a great number of Indians, over whom he stiled himself the King of Kings. After we had properly gratified his mercenary disposition, the Indians brought us down buffaloes, fowls, vegetables, and fish in abundance. From thence we pursued our course, but upon a reef of rocks five leagues from the land of New Holland we struck, and lay seven hours on shore; but at last we happily got her off, and arrived safe at Batavia, where we repaired and refitted her.
“We were all afflicted at this place with a violent flux and fever, which swept off six of our people in a morning. It was here we lost the ingenious Mr. Green, the faithful Tobia, and his comrade. But no sooner had we quitted this unwholesome shore, but those who came away sick recovered at sea, and the fruits and vegetables of the Cape of Good Hope restored us to health and spirits. We left this earthly paradise for St. Helena, and sailed from thence with the Portland; but we lost her company, and arrived in England with the loss of 45 people out of a complement of 90, in a voyage of three years. Before I conclude I must not omit how highly we have been indebted page 15 to a milch goat. She was three years in the West Indies, and was once round the world before in the Dolphin, and never went dry the whole time. We mean to reward her services in a good English pasture for life.
“I have herein, sir, related the heads of this long voyage from memory, our books of remarks being all taken from us at Batavia, which were the only satisfactory rewards for our toils. But juniors must give way to superiors. I don’t know, in this long epistolary narrative, that I have exaggerated a circumstance. If it gives any entertainment to you, it will well reward
“Your friend, &c.“
* Captain Wallis, of the Dolphin.