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Polynesia; A popular description of the physical features, inhabitants, natural history, and productions of the islands of the Pacific. With an account of their discovery, and the progress of civilisation and christianity amongst them.

Chapter XVI. — New Caledonia; the Isle of Pines; and the Loyalty Islands

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Chapter XVI.
New Caledonia; the Isle of Pines; and the Loyalty Islands.

the "gates of yengen," new caledonia.

the "gates of yengen," new caledonia.

The large island of New Caledonia, discovered by Captain Cook on Ms second voyage in 1774, lies about 800 miles east from the coast of Australia, and about 1000 miles north-west from the North page 334Cape of New Zealand. The New Hebrides group are distant from it a little more than 150 miles, in a north-easterly direction, It extends between the parallels of 20° and 23° south, and is crossed by the meridian of 165° east from Greenwich. Its length from north-west to south-east is 200 miles, and its mean breadth thirty miles; thus forming an area of 6000 square miles.

New Caledonia is more or less mountainous throughout, and scattered with timber and brushwood from the shore to its summits. The island is traversed by a central rocky ridge of considerable elevation, running through its whole length; this mountain chain becomes gradually higher towards the south-east, till it reaches an elevation of 4,300 feet above the level of the sea. The principal rocks are quartz, mica, steatite, green schorl, and granite. Specular iron ore is abundant, and the mountains contain rich metallic veins.

The shores consist generally of shell-sand mingled with particles of quartz. The soil of the plains is a black mould, which in some places is very fertile. The sides of the hills are composed of a yellow ochreous clay, richly spangled with mica. Quartz ranges form the higher peaks, in which large masses of mica of an intensely red or orange colour occur. Asbestos has also been met with, as well as blocks of hornstone, which is of a blackish-green colour, extremely hard, and full of small garnets.

It is surrounded on all sides with an extensive barrier reef of coral, which is distant from the shore from two to twelve miles, having many openings page 335that allow entrance to the largest ships, and forming an almost continuous channel round the island, with good anchorage in most places. A continuation of the reef almost connects the southern extremity of New Caledonia with the Isle of Pines, which is twenty-eight miles distant; and, to the north, dangerous reefs stretch out fully 100 miles from the coast, dotted at intervals with small islands, some of which are inhabited by savages of the most ferocious character.

New Caledonia possesses several good harbours; more especially Balade, near the north-east end of the island, and Port St. Vincent, now called Port de France, on the south-west coast, which is an excellent harbour, easy of ingress, and completely sheltered from all winds, with a moderate depth of water throughout; this is the principal port of New Caledonia, and where the capital of the French settlement now stands.

Ten years ago, New Caledonia was taken possession of by the French, and a permanent settlement founded there by that nation, the ostensible object of which was to cultivate sugar and coffee. The establishment of a large military and naval depot at Port de France, however, shows that the ultimate object of the French government was to secure so important a strategic position in the Pacific. Captain Hood, who visited Port de France in H.M.S. "Fawn," in 1862, says of it, "A few years ago, this rather sterile shore resounded only with the warcries and booming lalis of its wild aborigines. To day the bugles rang out shrilly in the calm bright page 336air, as we landed on the Quai Napoleon, and passed up the Rue Magenta, enlivened with the uniforms of artillerymen, zouaves, gendarmes, &c, to call upon his Excellency Governor Guillain, lately arrived to take charge of the affairs of the colony. The town has prospered well during the six years which have elapsed since the occupation of this large island by the French. It is very neat and clean, and well laid out; but whether it will ever be a populous one is very doubtful. The temptations to emigrate to New Caledonia are not by any means great, and the number of civilians here is much less than it was three years ago. The climate, no doubt, is salubrious, but the amount of good land is very limited. It is a sort of penal settlement at present; soldiers and conscripts who have committed more venial crimes are sent here for the period they would have had to serve as regulars; and, under the cognomen of 'disciplinaires,' are employed in making roads and on other public works, being at the same time under strict military discipline. Eight miles from Port de France is the mission of La Conception, where the Marist fathers have a large and flourishing establishment, surrounded by a considerable native village. More than 100 scholars attend the school, and success appears at last to be attending the efforts made to civilize the New Caledonians, which, at one time seemed to be an almost hopeless task, the mission having to be abandoned in consequence of the hostility of the natives."

There are other Roman Catholic missionary stations at Balade and Yenghen, in the north, which page 337seem to be progressing favourably, they having latterly been considerably reinforced by missionaries from Europe.

The bay of Port de France is surrounded by hills rising tier above tier, as they recede towards the main ridge or backbone of the island. The lower country is covered with coarse grass, and in parts timbered lightly with the desolate-looking Melaleuca leucodendron, with its ragged and tattered bark, and white stems often charred by fire. The casuarina, or she-oak, also grows in various parts of the country, which, on the whole, is even less tropical-looking than the generality of the opposite coast of Australia in the same latitude. In the valleys the soil is good, and bananas, sugar-canes, yams, and taro seem to thrive tolerably well in sheltered situations.

The bread-fruit of the northern part of this island is very similar to that of the Figis, but scarce; and the sides of some of the valleys are scattered with cocoa-nut trees; whilst many beautiful shrubs grow on the high grounds.

The expectation, at one time indulged in, that New Caledonia would prove an important woolproducing country, does not seem likely to be realized. The sheep suffer much from the larvæ deposited by large flies in the wool of the animal, which devour it alive, and also from the penetrating barbed seeds of the coarse grass.

The inhabitants of New Caledonia bear a considerable resemblance to the now extinct aborigines of Tasmania. Their hair is crisp, nearly woolly, and page 338frizzed out like a mop; their colour very dark; with projecting lips; narrow, retreating foreheads; and noses artificially flattened. Most have the lobes of their ears distended to an enormous extent, pieces of wood gradually increased in size being used for that purpose. The men go almost naked, with the exception of a small wrapper and a headdress. The women wear a fringe five or six inches deep round the loins, and have their hair cropped short. The men who adopt the rough "mop-heads," use a "scratcher," which is composed of a number of sticks of hard wood, about the thickness of knittingneedles, fastened together at one end like a sort of comb.

The New Caledonians in their moonlight dances wear a large mask, called a "momo," which consists of a hideous face, carved out of wood and painted black, to which are attached long masses of woolly human hair and feathers, whilst a sort of coarse network depends below, covering the wearer as far down as the knees.

Their houses resemble beehives with peaked roofs, and are ornamented on the top with a post carved with grotesque images, and decorated with white "ovulum" shells. The sides of their houses are of spars and reeds, and the roofs thatched with dry grass; the entrance is a hole just big enough to admit a man bent double; and a fire is generally kept burning inside the hut. They manufacture earthen vessels, in which they boil roots and fish; these they paint with red ochre and varnish with the gum of the dammara. Their canoes are formed page 339of two hollowed trees fixed together by a platform; and although of considerable size, are clumsy in their construction. The sails of their canoes are manufactured from the fibre of the plantain-tree. Their food is fish, shell-fish (which is very abundant along the reefs), taro, plantains, cocoa-nuts, yams, and other esculents: they also, according to Labillardière, eat a species of spider, and a greenish kind of steatite, or soap-stone. They cultivate the ground, and build walls along the mountains to confine the soil, forming the arable surface into a succession of terraces. There is reason to believe that formerly these people were in a more advanced state than at present, as remains of ancient aqueducts are to be seen of several miles in length; also of paved roads and fortifications. They use axes and tools made of green jade, with which they shape their canoes, after being first hollowed out by fire. Of their cannibal propensities there is no doubt; women accompanying their husbands and brothers to battle, not to assist them in the fight, but to drag away the fallen adversaries, and prepare their bodies for the banquet, serving them up—often entire—cooked in a sitting posture, painted and arrayed in war costume. Those of the victorious party who fall in battle are brought home with loud lamentations, and buried with great wailing and shrieking from the appointed mourners, who remain unclean often for several years after burying a distinguished chief, and are subject to many strict observances. For weeks the mourners continue nightly to waken the forest echoes with their cries. After some period page 340has elapsed, the grave is opened, and the head of the dead warrior twisted off; the teeth are distributed as relics amongst the relatives, and the skull preserved as a memento by the nearest of kin, who daily goes through the ceremony of offering it food. The native population of New Caledonia is supposed to be about 20,000.

Kunaie, or the Isle of Pines—so called by its discoverer, Captain Cook, from the number of the singular columnar-looking araucarias which the vegetation of its hill-tops displays‐lies twenty-eight miles south-east of New Caledonia, the intervening sea being full of coral reefs of greater or less extent. This island is forty-two miles in circumference, having many small uninhabited islets in its vicinity, which are resorted to at times by fishermen.

The scenery of the Isle of Pines is beautiful and picturesque, and the soil rich and fertile. Near the coast the land is generally low and rocky, with little soil, very thickly wooded: about two miles inland the soil improves, and from thence to the centre of the island the ground rises with a gentle ascent, with very little timber, and a rich alluvial soil, forming park-like spaces of hundreds of acres in extent. Beyond, the land rises gradually towards the peak, which is situated on the south-east part of the island, and is thickly wooded to the summit.

Being situated just within the southern tropic, the climate is not so warm as in those islands further to the north. The mean temperature during the winter months is about 65°, and in the summer season about 78°; although the changes from heat page 341to cold are at times very great; as an unusually hot day will frequently be succeeded by a night cold and chilly, which causes the climate to be somewhat trying to Europeans.

The inhabitants of the Isle of Pines have been represented as very depraved and treacherous; but the latter quality would appear to be the consequence of the treatment they received from the traders who first frequented the island after the discovery, in 1840, that it produced sandal-wood. Several massacres of the crews of these vessels, attended with circumstances of shocking barbarity, have from time to time occurred; but since the establishment, by a Sydney merchant, of a factory for the collection of sandal-wood and beche-de-mer upon the island, and their more frequent and pacific intercourse with Europeans, they have become quite harmless, and an unarmed man may now walk over the entire island without any apprehension; and the French missionaries, who have erected a large building for their accommodation, reside there in perfect security. The introduction of fire-arms by the traders, has, however, unfortunately enabled these people, who were always more or less at war with the New Caledonians, almost to depopulate their enemies' country in its south-eastern portion, prior to the occupation of that island by the French.

The natives of the Isle of Pines are generally about the middle size, and in complexion somewhat between the black and copper-coloured races of the Pacific. Their faces are well formed, with rather a large mouth and a fine set of teeth. Their hair page 342has a frizzly appearance; some of the men wear it long, and wrap it up in "tappa," whilst others cut it short, leaving a tuft on one side of the head. The females, both young and old, have their heads shaved, which gives them an ugly appearance. Both sexes have the lobes of their ears perforated, and distended to the size of a couple of inches in diameter. Their ornaments are beads, shells, and strings of human hair. The chiefs wear white cowrie shells tied round the knees and wrists. When dressed for war, they are painted black on the face and breast, with the hair done up in many folds of "tappa," and decorated with cocks' tail feathers. The women are very degraded, and are compelled to carry burdens, to work in the banana and taro plantations, to fetch wood and water, and to make "tappa" mats and baskets. The men plant the yams, build houses and canoes, fish, and go to war. Polygamy is practised amongst them; and aged and decrepit persons are either put to death by their relatives, or are carried to one of the neighbouring small uninhabited islands to perish with hunger. Cannibalism was formerly very prevalent; the bodies of their enemies slain in battle being always cooked and eaten by them. They bake their food in ovens of heated stones, and wrap it in banana leaves, before putting it into the oven. They are averse to go out of their villages after dark, as they believe that evil spirits hover about them; and when they do travel at night, they always carry a lighted flambeau or firestick in their hand. The principal diseases amongst them are elephan-page 343tiasis, rheumatism, and ulcerated legs. All their villages are situated near the coast, and are built amongst groves of cocoa-nut trees. The entire population of the island is estimated at a little over 2000 souls.

The Loyalty Islands are situated to the south-westward of the New Hebrides, and east from New Caledonia, from which they are separated by a channel forty-five miles in width. These islands are four in number, and are amongst the more recent discoveries in the Pacific, having been very imperfectly known until they were visited and examined by Captain Erskine, in H.M.S. "Havannah" in 1849, although vessels from Sydney touched at them in search of sandal-wood in 1841.

The names of the Loyalty Islands are Uea, or Britannia Island, Lifu, Mare, and Tika; they are surrounded by several small rocky islets; and, unlike the New Hebrides, are low and flat, belonging to the coral formation; the north-western extremity of the group being apparently still submerged, and forming a prolonged line of dangerous reefs.

Uea consists of one large island, thirty miles in length, having three good ship passages leading through the reefs into a large and beautiful bay, where there is good anchorage for vessels. The south-eastern part of the island presents an ironbound shore, with no soundings within 150 yards of the breakers. The west side is low, thickly studded wtth cocoa-nut trees, having a beach of fine white sand, running along the shore of the harbour. Uea is formed of coral limestone, elevated in the page 344south-eastern portion about 170 feet, where it descends in perpendicular cliffs to the sea. It is quite level on the top, and the whole island is thickly wooded. There are no running streams, although fresh water can be procured by digging wells in the sand near the beach. On the western side the soil is good, and the plantations around the native villages produce beautiful taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, and sugar-cane. The sandal-wood grows on this island as well as the others of the Loyalty group. The population of Uea is probably about 4000 souls.

Lifu is about thirty-seven miles long, varying in breadth from ten to twenty miles. It has no harbour, but there is a large bay on the north-west side of the island, where indifferent anchorage may be obtained. Like the south-east part of Uea, the coast presents an iron-bound shore, with perpendicular cliffs of coral limestone, and no soundings within 150 yards of them. The elevation of Lifu is not more than 200 feet, being quite level, and wooded on the top. The soil is generally poor, except in the small spots of low land near the shore where the native villages are, on which are beautiful groves of cocoa-nut trees. The population of Lifu is estimated at about 3000. The inhabitants are divided into two hostile tribes, who are frequently at war with each other.

Mare, which was discovered by the sandal-wood traders in 1841, is twenty miles long by ten wide. Its formation and general aspect is similar to that of the other islands of the Loyalty group. page 345It has no harbour, although anchorage may be found near the shore in some places.

The climate of the Loyalty Islands is described as being salubrious, and well adapted to a European constitution; the weather during the winter months being cool and agreeable. Earthquakes are, however, frequently experienced in the summer-time, the shocks of which are sufficiently severe to overthrow a stone building.

Owing to the discovery of an abundant supply of sandal-wood upon these islands, they attracted for several years a number of traders from the Australian colonies. The usual results, of vessels being plundered and their crews massacred by the natives, followed; though in many cases these outrages may be traced to a feeling of revenge for injuries inflicted on the inhabitants, by the reckless and undisciplined crews of these vessels. Samoan teachers have been labouring in Mare for some years; and the missionary efforts of the Melanesian mission are now being directed to the other islands of the group.

The natives of the Loyalty Islands belong to the black or dark race of Polynesia, but with a strong infusion of blood and language, derived by immigration from the islands situated farther to the eastward.

They may be described as being generally of a chocolate colour, although some are much darker than others; the men go nearly naked, whilst the women wear a fringe round the loins, somewhat similar to that of the New Caledonian females. page 346Their hair is either crisp or flowing, and the men wear long bushy beards and whiskers; they whiten their hair with slacked lime, which gives it a fair, red, or brown colour, according to the taste of the wearer. Their eyes are black, brilliant, and penetrating; and their countenances, on the whole, are milder and more pleasing than those of the natives of the Isle of Pines. In Lifu, some of the men have figures of birds, &c, tattooed upon their arms. All accounts agree in their being cannibals; and that they are naturally a treacherous and cruel race there is but little doubt.

Their houses are usually of a conical form and good size, in the shape of a beehive; though occasionally they are built as an oblong square. A councilhouse in Uea is described as being ninety feet long by twenty in breadth; the roof having a double pitch, falling on each side of the ridge to eaves about four feet from the ground, well thatched with long grass, and perfectly water-tight. All strangers and visitors sleep in these council-houses.

Their canoes, although of a similar description to those of the Isle of Pines, are ruder in their construction. They are built double, the smaller one serving as an outrigger to the larger, and are connected by beams, on which a platform of planks is laid. They have two triangular sails, manufactured of pandanus leaves. Although clumsy in appearance, and poor sea boats, the natives frequently perform voyages in them to New Caledonia. The war-canoes carry from thirty-five to fifty men each. When the sails are in, they have a peculiar method of propelling page 347them by means of sculls, about six feet long by six inches broad, which they shove down through round holes in the platform, and, by working these from side to side, propel the canoe, in a similar way to sculling a boat.

Their implements of war are clubs, tomahawks, spears, slings, and stones; the stones are of an oval pointed shape, and are carried in a bag round the waist. They have, in common with the natives of the Isle of Pines, a peculiar mode of drinking; they throw the head back, with the mouth open, hold the calabash up with both hands, and allow the water to run down the gullet. This is done to prevent their lips touching the vessel, it being considered impolite for several persons to drink out of the same calabash.