Historical Records of New Zealand Vol. II.
On the 12th, at 11 a.m., we sighted New Zealand by a latitude of 35° 37′ and a longitude of 168° 50′, which gave us a difference of 110 leagues more west than this land is marked on M. Bellin's map.
This part of New Zealand does not appear to be accessible, and must be thickly populated, judging by the large number of fires we saw. The shore is full of sand ridges, rather high. The mountains, which are some 3 or 4 leagues from the coast, are very high.
M. de Surville's intention was to double New Zealand in the north, but the winds were not favourable enough for that. We continued to tack about, constantly looking for some port. The contrary winds lasted from the north until the 14th, then changed to the W.N.W. with such violence that several times we thought we would get wrecked. The sea was very rough, and constantly took us towards the land, which offered no accessible landing-place. On account of the position we were in and the lay of the land, it was impossible to double it in the north, and we had about the same difficulties in doubling it in the south. We spent the whole of the night of the 14th until the 15th in great anxiety, obliged to tack about constantly, and to carry some sail, in order to drift less. The next day danger was just as great, the wind and the sea always being the same. We had, however, a glimpse of hope when we noticed that the currents had carried us away from the coast.
In the afternoon the winds became less violent; passing to the south-west they allowed M. de Surville to attempt a daring manœuvre, well thought out, and the only one which could possibly take us away from the coast. In spite of the violence of the wind he set more sail, ordering the main sail to be set; it was carried away, but the other sails being new, resisted all the force of the wind. It was absolutely necessary to double the coast, or be in danger of perishing. We were then at a latitude of 35° 15′ south. One can see in that position on the map a point which projects to the N.N.W. That point was the greatest obstacle to surmount, and if we could manage to double it we could get further and further from the land situated more to the north, and of which the situation was nearly known to us. We did not have the same good prospect by doubling it in the south. We at last succeeded in doubling that point, and kept constantly going up towards the north. The sea and the wind got quieter, and the weather became more favourable than we could possibly hope.
On the 16th of December we discovered the cape that Abel Tasman named the North West Cape.* We shortly after sightedpage 267
the Three Kings Islands. At noon the latitude was observed to be 34° 22′. We were, by my estimation, at 168° 12′ east of the Paris meridian. We made the following, not corrected, observations of variation: The North West Cape of Tasman formed the land the most southern to our sight, and it was lying to the S.W. ¼ S. 10° in the south. About 5 leagues away we had a point on the E. ¼ S.E. 3° S., and 6 leagues away another cape forming the most northern land was lying east 8 ½°. The officers of the vessel named the last cape “Cape Survill.”* We took the position of the Three Kings to be W. ¼ N.W. 3° W., far away in the distance.
The point B which is on the reduced map of New Zealand forms a kind of bay with the Cape North West of Tasman, but not deep enough to prevent us from seeing some flat and sandy shores.
By the colour of the sea-water we expected to find anchorage on that coast. At a distance of about 3 leagues of the point B, lying east, we found, on sounding, 40 fathoms, with a red sandy bottom.
The same day we doubled Cape Surville. On the east of that cape there is a point near which there are breakers projecting to the sea.
Cape Surville is very abrupt, and rather high. It resembles a truncated pyramid; its base is very broad. We sounded opposite that cape, but 30 fathoms of line did not find bottom.
After passing Cape Surville we found a very large bay, but as there did not appear to be any shelter in it, we went further south, where we discovered another bay.
The way Abel Tasman had been received in this country made us fear to be treated likewise.† We were therefore very much surprised to see a boat with five or six men coming towards us. They gave us the little fish and shell-fish which they had, and in exchange we gave them a little calico. When leaving us they showed us where their habitations were.
Shortly after, three big canoes came within gun-range of the vessel. From that distance they showed us now and then their fish. Seeing that these demonstrations had no effect, they came alongside the vessel, and passed under the stern gallery to trade. They gave us a wonderful quantity of fish for some little pieces of calico, with which they covered their shoulders.‡page 269
The chief of these natives having made signs that he wished to come on board, we made signs to him to come up. M. de Surville received him with a salute. He had a mantle of dog-skin on him, which we started examining. Thinking we wished to have it he at once offered it to us, but we declined to accept it. We took him to the council room, where M. de Surville gave him a coat and a pair of red breeches; he put on the coat, and kept the breeches under his arm. In grateful exchange he presented M. de Surville with his dog-skin mantle. His people, not seeing him after a certain lapse of time, showed signs of anxiety, and began to murmur. He showed himself to his people and by his gestures we understood that he was telling them that he was in perfect security. We then gave him a shirt, which he put on immediately. Several of the natives got on board, and from the first we had a good idea of their real character, for they showed themselves to be great thieves. They took everything they came across. They left the vessel each of them wearing a piece of calico on their shoulders. The chief wanted to take off his shirt, but not remembering how he had got it on it was rather amusing to see him so embarrassed, and his people trying to help him by pulling on the sleeves and other parts at the same time. He at last succeeded in taking it off when he remembered that he had had to raise his arms to put it on.
On the 17th we came to anchor in a bay of which the entrance is to the S.E. ¼ S., 12 leagues distant from Cape Surville, and by southern latitude 34° 19′. The map of this bay is on the chart 10.
At a distance of a league from the entrance of this bay we first touched bottom at 34 fathoms, sand and green-mud bottom, then we touched shallower coral and rotten-shell bottom. At 25 fathoms we dropped anchor in this last spot in front of a sandy cove situated at the foot of a little mountain on the top of which was a village.
The next day we went to sound near this little cove, and found the bottom getting shallower at each sounding until it was only 9 fathoms deep. There we were only 140 yards from the shore, having only the winds from the E.N.E. to the east to fear. We could not suppose, after the bad weather we experienced on the west coast, that we would get as bad on the east coast.
One can easily imagine the joy of our miserable crew to find themselves with people who had already treated us with humanity. Since our departure from Port Praslin sixty of our men had succumbed, and the scurvy had got hold of nearly all the rest of us; a few days more without landing and the vessel “St.page 271
Jean Baptiste” would never have left New Zealand coasts except by a miracle.
On that day, the 18th of December, M. de Surville went on shore. The chief of the village came to receive him on the beach. All his people were scattered here and there, holding dog-skin mats and bundles of herbs, which they alternately raised and lowered, most likely to do M. de Surville honour.
The next day we again went ashore, but our reception was very different. The inhabitants of the country, well armed, were standing in groups. The chief, who had come in a canoe to meet M. de Surville, made a sign to him to remain on the beach. He seemed, or at least his people did, anxious on seeing a large party of our crew on shore. He left M. de Surville to go and speak to his people, which he did with great animation; he then came back and asked M. de Surville for his gun, of which he only knew the noise. Seeing that we would not let him have the gun, he asked for the sword. M. de Surville lent it to him, and he ran to show it to his people, who, seeing it, were quite pacified.
It is certain that this chief had taken our interest near his people quite at heart, and showed us every possible confidence. Having shown that he wished to come back on board, we allowed him to do so. As soon as we had put to sea a certain distance we heard cries, showing some anxiety about him. The women started to cry, and in order not to alarm them we at once brought him back to the shore.
M. de Surville named that bay “Lauriston”* and the cove which I mentioned above “Chevalier.”†
A few days later we got the vessel near the cove, and dropped our anchor, on the 22nd of December, in 18 fathoms gravel and rotten-shell bottom. The village was then W.N.W. at a distance of three quarters of a league.
We remained in that bay until the last day of the year 1769. The men of our crew had recruited well enough, but not as well as we wished. We could not remain there with any security after the loss of our anchor in a furious gale. This event deserves to be related here on account of the wiseness and firmness of M. de Surville. It is in such dangers that the good sailor chooses and makes use of the resources offered to him to resist the violence of the elements.
The winds, which had been blowing from the S.S.W. and from the S.W. until the 27th of the month, changed to the E.N.E. On that day three of our boats had gone to the top of the baypage 273
fishing, and the wind only allowed two of these boats to come back to the vessel. During the night the wind got so strong that we were obliged to drop a third anchor, because we kept drifting in spite of the two we had dropped. The vessel resisted the efforts of the wind until half-past 7 a.m. of the 28th when one of the cables broke. The vessel then kept drifting continually in spite of our lengthening our third anchor's cable. We were distinctly drifting to the south-western part of the “Chevalier” Cove, which coast is very abrupt, and bordered with breakers stretching far out to sea, and on which the sea was breaking horribly. Hardly were we 150 yards from it when M. de Surville decided to set the sails, and gave the order to cut the cables. This operation did not take long but at each moment the danger increased. One cannot see death nearer than we did. We were very near the rocks, about 20 yards away, when the vessel happily fell on the starboard, the only side which could give us some hope of escaping shipwreck. We owed our salvation to the cleverness of M. de Surville, and to his coolness during those terrible moments. He saw the only way and took it. His firmness reassured our sailors, and encouraged them to do a work very hard for people already weakened by illness. One can have an idea of the evident danger we ran on that occasion by the fate of a small boat which we had in tow, and which was entirely submerged. Many thought it had been smashed on the rocks, and the order was given to cut the rope to free the vessel of it.
Although having then escaped an almost certain shipwreck, we were by no means certain of not perishing at any moment. We could not get out of the bay on account of the wind, and we could not anchor, having no more anchors ready.
The small number of sailors on board was hardly sufficient to succeed in getting a big anchor ready, and it was only after four hours of very hard work that they succeeded. During that time the vessel was constantly thrown on the coast by the wind and waves. We only had a depth of 6 fathoms when we succeeded in dropping an anchor in a small cove which, on account of the circumstances, we named “Refuge Cove.” That was the only heavy anchor we had left. To maintain our selves on a 6 fathom bottom we let go half of the 140 yards of cable attached to the anchor. We also wanted to throw a small anchor, but the cable could not stand the strength of the waves.page 275
We could not hope to hold for long with the only anchor, and our only prospective was to go ashore at any moment; in truth, with less danger than in Chevalier Cove. We unrigged the gallant and top masts to ease the vessel. The anxiety of our fate did not prevent us being very anxious about the boat, which had been prevented by the wind from coming back to the vessel the day before. Every one of our sick ones, thirty-three in number, were in that boat. She was, besides, loaded with water. Our anxiety, however, about her ceased when we saw her anchored in Refuge Cove, but it was impossible for her to come back to us on account of the heavy sea.
If our anxiety on one part was relieved we felt a much greater one on account of several accidents. The bar of our rudder broke. We rigged up another, which also broke shortly after. So we had to fix up a third with two pieces of wood; that last one held good; in this way we would not have been quite helpless if the cable had broken, or if the winds had allowed us to set sail to get out of the bay. The wind remained to the north-east during all the night of the 28th to the 29th, and blew with the same violence.
In the morning the wind changed to the north-west. With that wind we could, in case of necessity, set sail, which relieved our anxiety a little. Our boat took the opportunity of a short lull in the wind to come back to us. The quiet interval was not long, and the wind started blowing stronger than ever.
The people in the boat told us that they had only escaped death by the greatest luck. Coming back from Refuge Cove to get on board the vessel the day before, their mast broke, which forced them to go back there, not without great danger. They went aground once and several times touched reefs with their oars, but at last they had the good fortune to reach a spot where they were sheltered. Our poor sick ones spent the night in the boat without being able to shelter themselves from the rain, which fell very heavily. The next day, which was the 28th, they were able to go ashore. Fortunately, the little fish which had been caught the day before had been put in their boat; they consumed part of the fish, saving the remainder for the next day, as they anticipated not being able to return to the vessel on account of the bad weather. That piece of luck was followed by another: the chief of that part of the bay gave them an agreeable surprise by bringing them some dried fish, which they gratefully accepted. They made him undertand that they could not give him anything in exchange; he answered by signs that he asked for nothing, and pointed topage 277
his hut; he seemed to want to explain the pleasure it would give him if they would take possession of it. This good man, feeling pity for the pitiful state in which he saw our sick ones, pressed them to come to his hut, and made them understand that they would there be well taken care of and sheltered from the rough weather. A good many of them accepted his kind invitation.
M. Dubucq, chief surgeon on board, was in that boat. He started with eight armed men to go to Chevalier Cove, thinking that he could find an opportunity from there to get on board our vessel to get some provisions for the sick ones. We were then at the height of our peril when they got to Chevalier Cove. Before they saw us they though themselves the most unfortunate of the crew, but our situation made them shiver, and think themselves the least unfortunate; they thought that the vessel would at any moment founder, or get smashed on the rocks. It was for them a horrible spectacle, and they were then quite convinced that they would have to end their days in New Zealand.
The wind did not cease to blow violently until the 31st of December, but without any danger to us, as our cable held good.
The same day we saw at the top of the bay the little boat which had been wrecked on the reefs of Chevalier Cove. M. de Surville at once decided to go and secure her, and took with him all that was necessary to fit her for the sea. But in getting near to the shore we were much surprised to find only a piece of wood. However, from the vessel we had distinctly seen our little boat, and no doubt was possible when we found trace of a boat and a rope belonging to her. We followed the tracks, which took us to a little river, but we went up and down it in vain, as we could never discover anything of our boat.
M. de Surville looked upon her removal as a decided theft, which he resolved to punish. He came for that purpose near the river marked 6 in the chart of Lauriston Bay, map 10. He found there a few savages round two canoes. M. de Surville called them up to him: one of them advanced, and by M. de Surville's order was at once captured.* We seized one of their canoes, and burnt the others. We also set fire to some forsaken straw huts, which were destroyed in a moment.
We came back on board the vessel with the unfortunate native. One cannot forbear to point out the oddness of fate: that same native was recognized by our chief surgeon as the onepage 279
who had so generously offered his hut and provided our people with food.
After such a hostile act we could not expect to get any help from the natives. It was then necessary to go and get help somewhere else. M. de Surville summoned his staff to a council, in order to ascertain what was best to be done. He only spoke superficially about the real object of the voyage, for it was not necessary for us to know about it, to come to a decision.
In a country so much exposed to storms as New Zealand is, we could not possibly expose ourselves by remaining there longer—to lose the only heavy anchor we had left. We were then more than 1,200 leagues from any European settlement this side of the Cape of Good Hope. But to go there we would have to pass through some straits where we would often have to anchor, even several times a day. With but one anchor and a crew tired and reduced by half, could we without extreme imprudence decide to go back on our tracks?
Peru, although 1,800 leagues distant from New Zealand, offered us a port much more distant, it is true, but with far less inconveniences for us to get there. The winds would be almost constantly in our favour, and we did not foresee, except in case of accident, any necessity for us to anchor anywhere before we got to that port. In our situation it was the only decision to come to and the only prudent course to follow.
M. de Surville was delighted in that, thanks to this decision, he could yet follow out part of his instructions. He hoped anyhow to be able to fix the latitude of the island, which was the object of his voyage, and he could then come back to it under better circumstances after making the vessel more fit for the sea; which object he hoped to accomplish in a Peruvian port.
To terminate this article concerning New Zealand, we have to speak about its inhabitants, its products, &c., &c.
Nobody before us had set foot on that land: it was discovered on the 13th of September, 1642, by Abel Tasman, who met on the western coast the same bad weather as we did. He followed that coast from 42° 10′ southern latitude until 34° 35′, so all that we saw on the eastern coast was discovered by the “St. Jean Baptiste.”*
The inhabitants are of a fine stature, but their legs are so thick that they appear to be swollen. Their colour is very dark,page 281
and their features rather regular. They have long hair, which they gather on top of the head, and arrange with white feathers. They dye their forelock red with a paint mixed with oil. On different parts of their body they have drawings made with coal-dust, and fixed with some kind of caustic, so that they never disappear. It is generally on the thighs they have most of these drawings, which are worked in spiral.
The women, as a rule, are very ugly. They paint, like the men, different parts of their body, except the face, of which only the lower lip is painted.
Their most common dress consists of a mat, made of several smaller mats sewed together. It reaches down to their calves, and it is very similar to a cape. These mats do not entirely cover the body, but they do not seem to mind that much; a few of them however wear belts.
Instead of mats, the chiefs wear a cloak made of several bands of dog-skins. They turn the hair outside on ceremonious occasions, but to protect themselves against the cold they wear the hair inside.
Their nourishment in general is very miserable. Their chief food is the root of the fern, which is there in great quantity. They warm it, beat it, and use it instead of bread. They also have quantities of fish. To cook it they dig a hole in the ground, fill it half way with stones, and on top light a large fire; when they judge the stones are sufficiently heated they put their fish, well enveloped in leaves, on the top of the stones, and cover the whole with earth.
The fish we have seen in that country are the flounder, the mackeral, the cod, bull-head, red and ordinary gurnet, sea-devil, dog-fish, &c.
These people take shelter like the inhabitants of the Bachy Islands, on rather steep hills. Few of us attempted to go there, for it would have been running too great a danger to satisfy a mere curiosity. A mistake would certainly have been fatal to us. The natives, without doubt, selected these refuges, so perilous of access, so as to place themselves out of reach of their enemies, but besides these refuges, they possess huts on the flat ground, but during our stay in their country they abandoned them.
One of the natives asked several of us to go to the top of the hill where the citadel was. When we arrived at the top he tookpage 283
hold of a lance and showed us how they defended themselves. He made us understand that if some of the enemies remained on the battlefield they cut them to pieces and ate them. The one we took prisoner several times assured us that his people were cannibals. It is only with horror that one can relate the way he told us they act towards their prisoners. They seize them by the hair and kill them with a blow from a stone weapon on the temple. They cut off the limbs and open the stomach with a cross-like incision. They pull out the intestines and cut the limbs and body in pieces, which they distribute amongst themselves.
We did not notice amongst the natives any other weapon than the lance and the stone weapon, the length of which might be 12 or 14 inches. Some of these weapons are made of bone, which, judging by the size, must be whales' bone.
They wear round their necks a kind of image made of stone, resembling a jade. This image seems to be squatting on its heels. The eyes are made of mother-of-pearl, incrusted in the stone. It is very wonderful that these natives are able to give these images such a polish, carve them and pierce them, without using any metal. They have stones hanging from the ears about 3 in. in length, and made of the same stone.
With reason we can presume that these people have a kind of religion, for while showing us these stone images they put their hands together and raised their eyes to heaven.
We saw amongst the New-Zealanders some musical instruments; one is made of shell, to which is adjusted a round tube, 3 in. or 4 in. long; they draw from it sounds similar to those of the bagpipes. It is without doubt the instrument of which Abel Tasman speaks. The other instrument is about 1 ½ in. long, hollow, and with only one hole. They draw from it five or six sounds similar and as sweet as those of the piccolo. These natives evidently have a taste for music. We heard them singing in chorus, and they kept in perfect tune. They also seemed very fond of dancing. Three young girls, only excited by the voice and clapping of an old woman, danced before M. de Surville and some others from the vessel. They made use of the most indecent gestures to stimulate the indifference of the European spectators. After their dance was ended, one of the three girls, seeing that M. de Surville was going back to the vessel, ran to him, quite excitedly, put her arms round his body and did everything possible to entice him: and it was only with difficulty he managed to rid himself of her. They behaved in the same way with our sailors; it is impossible to meet more immoral women.page 285
Their way of saluting is rather peculiar. The person who is to receive the salute sits on the ground, and the one who is giving it comes forward and puts his nose on the nose of the person squatting on the ground. They remain thus without speaking for about half a minute. M. de Surville made use of this way of saluting with the native chief, who did not in any way object to squat down to receive his salute.
Their boats, as a rule, are very long. The bottom part is of one piece. To raise the boarding they sometimes make use of one or two planks. In the front and hind parts of the canoes are found some pieces of carving, such as can be seen on map 12.
They use a very hard stone of a slate colour, to work wood.
Their houses, like those of all savages, are very small, and without ornaments. They are about 5 ft. or 6 ft. high at most, 10 ft. long, and 4 ft. or 5 ft. wide. The houses which boast of a door have some very grotesque figures carved on the lower part of the door.
In front of their citadel they erect some high wooden posts, on which they dry the winter provision of fish. Winter there must be very severe, although the country only lies 200 leagues from the tropics, if we judge by the bad weather we experienced there in the month of the nicest season of the year.
During the first few days of our stay the Natives brought us some fish, but grew tired of providing us in the end. We then had to do our own fishing. Fish was the only food used by the Natives that we could eat.
We found in abundance some excellent anti-scorbutics—wild parsley and two kinds of cress. The first kind is the meadow cress, and the second the wild cress, whose leaves are long and notched. It is wonderful how these herbs made our crew convalescent in such a short time. The cress especially had a prodigious effect on certain persons. After eating some of it in a salad they were left almost breathless, their faces got quite flushed, and they had in their mouth a taste of blood. This attack lasted about an hour. After two or three of these attacks they ceased to suffer.
The use of these plants restored to health the members of our crew who were the most dangerously ill, even to the ones who could hardly crawl along. One sailor, in particular, whose body was swollen all over, and whose mouth was absolutely rotten, was carried on land two or three times, and by eating nothing but these herbs, he got well enough to go on the voyage.page 287
We have not seen in this country any other quadrupeds but dogs. The Natives rear them only to use them as food. Their coat is long and rather smooth.
Amongst the birds we saw was one of the size and colour of the blackbird, and which had under the beak little red combs like our hens. There is another bird which is the same size and colour, but instead of these combs has a tuft of white feathers.
The water-fowls, such as wild ducks, curlews, sea-larks, snipes, are there in great numbers. We noticed one especially, the same size as the wild duck, and whose beak and legs were red. The beak is long like that of the woodcock. Some of these birds have the beak of a yellowish colour. The difference in colour might be on account of the sex.
There were some fields planted with sweet potatoes, but the time for gathering them had not yet arrived. These Natives also cultivate some calabashes. We saw in New Zealand some ropes made of excellent hemp.
On the sea-shore is found a transparent gum brought there by the sea: it shows while burning a bright flame, and emits a rather sweet odour.*
We presented the Natives with some wheat, some rice, and some field-peas, trying to explain to them what they had to do to cultivate them. We also gave them two little pigs, male and female, a Siamese rooster and a hen, the only two fowls we had left on board for a considerable time.
The part of Lauriston Bay which forms the right-hand side of the entrance has no trees, but some high ferns. How ever, the scenery at Refuge Cove is rather pleasant. The banks of the streams are thickly covered with trees. There is only grass on top of the mountains.
The top end of the bay is flat country. There is a lagoon of rather considerable extent about half a league from the seashore.
The bad weather we experienced in that bay prevented us from making a perfect map of it. The eastern part of it, at first sight, seemed to us to offer better shelter and more resources than the spot where we were anchored.
It was on the night of the 31st of December, 1769, that we made ready to leave Lauriston Bay to try and reach the coast of Peru. What great anxiety we were to go through in sailing 1,800 leagues across a sea then unknown! Nobody had everpage 289
heard, indeed, of any traveller from India having attempted to reach America through the Southern Hemisphere. So far, every vessel going to America had journeyed through the Northern Hemisphere, their route tending to take them to California. It cannot be said that the vessels which sighted New Guinea, after doubling Cape Horn, had followed in the reverse way, the same route that we were to travel by; it is true that they went through that immense ocean of the Southern Hemisphere, but they did it between the tropics, where the winds are constantly favourable for running to the west. Our route, on the contrary, was to be well beyond the tropics. We did not know that some Austral land would not prevent us from reaching Peru.* In spite of this inconvenience, or rather uncertainty, we could not do otherwise; it was not prudent for us to try to recross the line, and find ourselves in the same climate where our crew had been in such a weak state. Without a doubt we would have been lost if, taking that resolution, the calms and storms had assailed us. We knew that treaties prohibited us from putting up in Peru unless one was absolutely in need of doing so. Unfortunately, our case was one of the exceptions.
Not having found anything interesting in the southern seas, I shall only speak of the winds we met with, and the variations of the compass we observed. These two items are always interesting to navigators.
Everybody knows that between the tropics the winds blow during the whole year from the east. But beyond the 30th parallel they blow in a contrary direction, from N.W. to S.W. There is, however, a season when they sometimes pass from the S.E. to the N.E. and that is what makes it easy to double Cape Horn coming from the east as well as the Cape of Good Hope. We were in the southern sea precisely during that season, and we experienced there these different winds. That forced us to keep in different latitudes as far as the 43rd parallel, when we had the west winds. By this latitude we experienced, in general, heavy weather, which decided M. de Surville to have the body of the vessel tied up with ropes on the quarter-deck to prevent it from getting loose. The big guns on it had put it in such a bad state that for a long time we feared we would not be able to go on with our voyage.
The weather was fine enough during all the time we were in the high latitudes. I join to this a chart of our route in thesepage 291
seas, on which I marked the variations of the compass we observed in New Zealand. It was of 12° N.E., and had gradually diminished until 2°. We estimated our position then at 122° west of the meridian of Paris. The variation then insensibly augmented as far as the Juan Fernandez Islands, which are at about 94° west of Paris, and it was there observed to be 11° N.E.
According to M. de Surville's instructions, the island he was to look for was situated about 102° west of the meridian of Paris. Therefore, finding himself 109° of longitude—that is, 7° from the island—he tried to reach the 27° or 28° of latitude, so as not to miss the island mentioned to him; but the winds from the east, which he met with on that parallel, did not allow him to persist in finding the exact position of the island.
The scurvy was beginning again to bother us, water was very scarce with us, and for several days we had been reduced to a pint a day for each man. In these circumstances M. de Surville convoked the council, with the result that it was unanimously decided to reach as soon as possible a port on the Peruvian coast. We had to go back in the south, so as to meet the winds from the west. It was then the 6th March, 1770.
We think, however, we passed close to land, judging by the quantity of birds and polyps we saw. Besides, we experienced storms with thunder and lightning, which are more frequent in the vicinity of land than in the open sea.
On the 12th we sighted a vessel by the estimated longitude of 107° and by the latitude of 34°. We could not ascertain her nationality. We were inclined to think she was Spanish; at least, we thought so when we found in our position a difference of 180 leagues in the east, and in sight of the Juan Fernandez Islands, which brought us nearer the coast. The vessel probably was going to Chili, and had been obliged to go further out to sea than usual.
On the 27th we sighted the Islands of Juan Fernandez. It is in sight of these islands that Naquinovi, the Native we had captured in New Zealand, died; sorrow, without doubt, contributed to his death, but the shortness of water that we had experienced for a long time was the principal cause. We set our route at once to the north, and on the 5th of April following we sighted the Peruvian coast opposite the Altes hiatiques, which are very high mountains. On the 6th we doubled the Sangallan Island.page 293
On the morning of the 7th we thought we saw some vessels anchored in a bay, and presumed it was Callao, and that during the night the currents had carried us to the north. We came near the vessels and soon after we found our mistake. M. de Surville gave the order to put out to sea, but we never could manage to double a point which was to our north, on account of the wind to the west being too feeble. The calm followed, and the currents were carrying us on the coast, from which we were only three quarters of a league distant, when fortunately we found a good bottom, where we dropped our anchor.
We spent the night there, with rather fine weather.
The next day we sent some distress signals, and fired our big guns; but nobody came near us. M. de Surville then decided to write to the Viceroy of Peru, to expose to him the sad situation we were in, and beg of him to give us every help we were in need of. He gave in his letter details of the different routes we had followed, and sent with it a copy of his passports and authenic written minutes justifying his anchoring near this coast. He ordered M. Labé, his first officer, to go ashore and carry the parcel. M. Labé found the sea so rough near the coast that it was impossible, except at great peril, to land. He came back on board to tell M. de Surville that landing was impossible.
In any other circumstances or in any other country M. de Surville would have waited until the sea got calmer or looked for another place easier of landing, so as to have his letter carried; but in the position we were in the slightest delay was dangerous. He took a resolution which has been thought foolhardy, but M. de Surville's well-known character deserves to have him put beyond such an accusation. He knew better than anyone else the importance of his letter; therefore it is not surprising that he wanted to assure himself of its transmission to the Viceroy. The precautions he took show better than any argument that his ordinary prudence did not forsake him on that occasion, and that if the event was fatal to himself, it is no reason to accuse him of having had too great a confidence in himself, and still less to doubt that he could place such a confidence in another.
M. de Surville, being sure that the bar of Chilca (that is the name of the place in front of which we were anchored) resembled that of Pondicherry or Madras, on the Coromandel Coast, got on board his boat a native of Pondicherry, an extra good swimmer, and one used to passing the bar there in the worst weather when necessary. The letter to the Viceroy waspage 295
put in a well-corked bottle. The intention of M. de Surville was not to land himself if the sea was not calm enough, but to send the blackfellow swimming to carry the bottle.
When the boat got within a certain distance of the shore M. de Surville acknowledged the impossibility of going any further. He got the bottle tied round the neck of the black fellow, who threw himself into the water perfectly naked. The bottle not being well secured kept knocking the swimmer on the face, and hurting him dreadfully. He had to try and break the string, and was lucky enough to succeed, or else he would undoubtedly have perished.
This man, who did not think he was exposed to any real danger, turned his gaze towards the boat, and saw her capsize, and M. de Surville and the two sailors swimming and trying with all their might to reach land. Unfortunately for them, they could not get rid of their clothing, and the three of them were drowned. Nothing better can be pointed out in praise of M. de Surville than the sympathy the Minister showed for his death, and his promising M. de Surville's widow that he would make up to the children for the loss of their father. Nothing that we could add would be more glorious to his memory.
Let us terminate this account of that sad catastrophe. The blackfellow, after much trouble, had at last the good fortune to land. Exhausted by fatigue, he fell fainting, and for over half an hour was unconscious. When he came back to his senses he found on the shore the bottle which contained the letter and the hat of M. de Surville. He carried everything to the village, and gave it to the priest of Chilca. This priest had him guided to Lima.
M. de Surville had given orders to M. Labé to put to sea the next day if he, M. de Surville, did not return on board. This order was executed on the 9th, but the winds were so light that we could only manage to reach the port of Callao on the 10th. There we dropped anchor, just at nightfall. We found there a difference of one day, as we had to expect, for there it was only the 9th of April, 1770.
The body of M. de Surville was found and buried at Chilca. The Viceroy sent to M. Labé the Cross of Saint Louis and the clothing found on the body, as well as some of the hair, probably to serve as a proof of the death.
We shall not enter into any details on the events posterior to M. de Surville's death, these events not being suitable to be related in a journal.
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