Historical Records of New Zealand Vol. II.
[Translation.] — Extracts from the Journal of a Voyage made on the — Sailing-vessel “Saint Jean Baptiste” (Captain Me. de — Surville, Knight of the Royal and Military Order — of Saint Louis, Captain of the Vessel) of the Compagnie — des Indes
Extracts from the Journal of a Voyage made on the
Sailing-vessel “Saint Jean Baptiste” (Captain Me. de
Surville, Knight of the Royal and Military Order
of Saint Louis, Captain of the Vessel) of the Compagnie
MM. Law de Lauriston, Chevalier, and de Surville, having met at Bengal in 1765, formed the project of getting into partnership together. The two first gentlemen, thanks to their large credit, could undertake the largest enterprises, the interests of which could not be intrusted for execution to a better man than the last-named, whose talents for navigation were generally acknowledged.
The commerce from India to India, as it was known in 1765, offered great advantages in certain branches, but who could estimate the profits which would be derived from the opening of new routes. The field is vast in India. The object of new discoveries has something noble in itself, and it is no wonder that anybody who is able to undertake may possess the courage of doing.
M. de Surville, back in France, asked permission to equip a vessel to trade from India to India. The Compagnie des Indes, who had just shown him the greatest confidence, consented to grant his wish, subject to the same conditions imposed on other men who had obtained the same grant. M. de Surville had been selected as the King's Commissary for the recovering of the posessions in India, and Governor, in case of absence or death of M. Law de Lauriston.
The abbreviated account of the voyage of M. de Surville's vessel, called “Saint Jean Baptiste,” being only interesting from the time of her equipment to go discovering, we will omit what preceded that departure.
MM. Law, Chevalier, and de Surville, who were the shipowners of the vessel, had intended her for the commerce of India to India, but they changed their intentions on hearing of the discovery of a new island in the South Seas by an English page 232 vessel.* What they heard about this island was so extraordinary that it deserved the whole of their attention, and, considering this business from a political point of view, they did not hesitate to arrange their equipment in order to prevent the English, if they intended making a second voyage, from taking possession of the island.
The invention and love of the marvellous, common enough to travellers, might have helped to exaggerate the advantages concerning the island, which the new ship-owners heard. But, even allowing a good deal for exaggeration, it was quite natural to presume that the island must be much richer than any of the other countries, as it is situated about 700 leagues west of the Coast of Peru and in a southern latitude of 27 to 28 degrees, which is the latitude of Capiazo, where the Spaniards get gold from in immense quantities.
Such an enterprise, however, would be subjected to many inconveniences, and one could not take too wise precautions in order to succeed. The expenses for the expedition could not but be very large. To make up for these expenses the shipowners put on board their vessel a rich cargo, which by being sold even at ordinary prices could not but remunerate them for all the advanced moneys which such equipment had necessitated.
The route M. de Surville was to follow to reach the island, although defined by his instructions, was not safe enough to allow him to promise that he would arrive there at a fixed period. It would have been exposing men and vessel to send the latter with an equipment similar to the one made for an ordinary voyage, and only to take the usual precautions to avoid, as much as possible, the disagreeable effects of events met with at sea.
* Probably refers to the discovery of Tahiti by Captain Wallis, in the “Dolphin,” in 1767, and reported by that officer on his return in May, 1768. The name given to the Island by Captain Wallis was King George's Island. It was selected as the site for Cook's observation of the transit of Venus, and that officer sailed thither in July, 1768. Cook and De Surville would thus be making for the same island.
The vessel “Saint Jean Baptiste” set sail from the Bay of Ingely, in the Ganges, on the 3rd of March, 1769, to go to Yanaon, where she was to take some goods, part of her cargo; and she left Yanaon on the 29th of March, 1769, to go to Masulipotam to load some bales of handkerchiefs, also part of the cargo.
On the 17th of April the vessel set sail for Pondichery, which she only reached on the 5th of May. They there got the last of the cargo.
M. Law de Lauriston sent on board M. de St. Paul, captain of grenadiers, with a troop of twenty-four soldiers belonging to the Indian troops. It was a reinforcement for the crew, and absolutely necessary if, eventually, it was necessary to use force. Events justified the wisdom of this precaution.
On the 2nd of June M. de Surville set sail from Pondichery to fulfill his mission.* All that might be of advantage to France was included in the mission. On that account M. de Surville wished to pass between the Nicobar Islands and put in port there to obtain information about a colony that the Danes intended to form there, according to rumour. This project, however, could not be given effect to, because we sighted these Islands suddenly on the 10th of June at midnight, and M. de Surville, in order to keep clear of the dangers of the coast at night, had to go southwards, and consequently fell under the wind from the islands.
On the 12th we sighted the islands, which are situated on the point of Achem; and on the 19th the vessel dropped anchor near the little island of Varela in the Malacca Strait, by 28 fathoms, muddy sand bottom, near a sandy little cove situated at the N.E. ¼ E. 2° N.
* That is, to sail for Tahiti.
We set sail again the following day at twelve at night, and nothing happened until the 29th of June, on which day we arrived at Malacca. The vessel saluted the fortress with nine guns and it only gave us seven. Many vessels have found themselves in a dilemma here, in either wanting to insist on a return of gun for gun or making no salute at all. In the last alternative the Dutchmen refuse you absolutely any help, but some wood and water. The best way is to bow with a grace to the necessity. During our stay at Malacca we very fortunately noticed that the head of the rudder was broken, and that the tiller did not act; we were detained for several days in that place in order to repair this damage.
On our arrival at Malacca M. de Surville was very well received by the Governor, and we had every facility to get the provisions of which we were in need. It is, however, to be thought that towards the end of our stay we would have had much more difficulty, as the Governor's dispositions towards us changed completely. Apparently he had some suspicion of our destination; he believed that its object was one of the Dutch possessions in the Malacca Archipelago. He said something about it to M. de Surville, who did his best to entirely disabuse him. After taking all the fresh provisions necessary, the vessel again put to sea, on the 14th of July. The same day we ran an evident danger through the carelessness of the steward, who let fall a lighted candle in a cask of rice brandy. The explosion was very violent, but fortunately the cask did not break, and we were able to put out the fire. I think I may here remark, that on board only lanterns, shut with a padlock, of which the key should be kept by one of the officers, should be used. Only a candle should be used too, and the extra expense should not prevent its use. Only one vessel saved from fire in a century would amply repay all that extra expense would have come to. We will not give any details of our journey through the Malacca Strait. M. Daprès, in his “Neptune page 235 Oriental,” gives every instruction necessary to those who sail through it.
On the 19th of July we turned the white stone which is at the entrance of the strait. The Captain ordered the helm to be put on Pulotimon, where the vessel dropped anchor on the 22nd in the south-east part in a sandy cove, distance, about 1½ leagues by 21 fathoms; muddy, sandy bottom. This anchorage is the one mentioned by M. Daprès in his “Neptune Oriental.”
This island is seldom frequented by Europeans. Its products are wax, a great quantity of cabbage palm, coconuts in plenty and some swallows' nests, all mercantile goods. There are also found there some mangoes, figs, bananas, nuts, watermelons, and other Indian fruits, also some sugar, some betel, &c. The island is inhabited by Malays, who live there almost independent, chiefly in the centre of the island.
On the island we managed to get some hens and some fruit, which the inhabitants exchanged for some inferior Dutch knives.
The water is very easily got at in a little river, situated South of the cove, especially when the tide is high. The island is covered with bush. On the coast are seen some enormous trees. There are no wild beasts, but monkeys, rats, ichneumons, ser-pents, flying lizards, are very abundant. A kind of monkey is also found there, known under the name of “man of the woods,” and which the inhabitants of Timon call “ourang outan.”
The captain of a little vessel which we came across loading some cabbage palm, gave us some information about the island, where we were. We have no hesitation in believing his account to be correct as we found to be true everything he told us about a little anchorage on the east coast of Malay.
The Malays call the island “Timon Chioumasse.” It is under the dependence, as are all the neighbouring islands, of the King of Tronganon, of whom we shall speak later on.
There is in the south-west part of this island a village called “Ouang-Tenga,” which is the most important village of the island, and situated further north than the small island on the west coast of Timon. The firewood and water are got at very easily, and one can also procure there some kids and far more provisions than in the south-eastern part.
These two anchorages are very handy, on account of the monsoons. In the one situated north-east, one goes to the north-east part; in the one situated south-west the spot where we were anchored is the best. The provisions we were able to get in this island were not abundant enough to help the crew of the vessel, and that decided M. de Surville to go to the anchor- page 236 -age indicated to us by the Malay captain. There we were to find every kind of provision.
We set sail from Timon on the 24th of July, after losing our anchor, as it was quite impossible for us to raise it. The captain was greatly affected by this loss, which did not appear of much consequence to those who did not know the object of the voyage.
We set our route to Tringan, situated 4° 58′ of latitude N, thinking it was the same place as Tronganon of which the Malay captain had told us.
On the 26th we sighted an English vessel, and we came to anchor near her. She sent a boat at once to the vessel of M. de Surville, with an officer, who told us that the place we were looking for was further north of the 27 M.
The English vessel had been equipped in Calcutta, and was coming back from Tronganon; they had disposed of their cargo rather advantageously at that place. On the 27th we again set sail, and the day after we dropped our anchor near Tronganon, in 12 fathoms, big yellow bottom, at about 1½ leagues from the mouth of the river.
The advantages offered to sailors by this anchorage induce us to give a special description of the country. The English are the only people to know it, and they every year place there the cargoes of five or six little vessels.
Tronganon is situated on the right bank of a river whose mouth is rather narrow, but after going up it some sixty fathoms it gets very large. There are several islands covered with coconut-trees and other trees, which give the country rather a pleasing appearance. The river is crowded with fishing-boats. Most of them set out every morning, and return in the evening loaded with fish.
The boats, which do not draw more than 12 ft. or 13 ft., can enter the river; near the point of the first island there is a place where one can anchor in 5 fathoms.
The arm of the river which passes to the south of the island forms a kind of straight channel, which would look well with a quay on each side. On entering the river one must keep near the southern point, on account of a reef which stretches and breaks towards the open sea on the right. The houses in Tronganon are of a very bad architecture. They are wooden, and roofed with leaves of palm-trees. There is no symmetry in the length or the arrangement of the streets. The street occupied by the Chinese is the only passable one. The houses in it are clean and the shops well stocked.
The bazaars or markets only open between 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, on account of the excessive heat, which lasts page 237 until that time. One can find some vegetables and an abundance of all the Indian fruits and a large quantity of fish. There is in the south of the river a small fortress or at least some walls made of planks 15 ft. high, and 1½ in. thick. This fortress is not surrounded by any outside work, except a little hedge rather thick, and 3 ft. or 4 ft. feet distant from the wall.
On the left bank is seen another square wooden construction having three openings at each end. There is another similar further up, and on the same side of the river. These are all the fortifications of Tronganon, and they could hardly offer any serious resistance to the weakest artillery.
The King's palace is situated in the fortress, and no one is allowed to enter it during the absence of the King.
The Temple is between the fortress and the town. It is built regularly. The Temple and the King's palace are the only buildings of any pretence.
The King, who is called “Sultan Mank Souron,” is the only merchant in his own kingdom. All business is transacted on his account; he himself deals with foreigners, and it seems that, from all we could hear, he is very careful in protecting the strangers who land in his dominions to do trade.
He had been absent for five months, and when we anchored, was in the north of Tronganon, where he had just finished a small war to his own advantage, which allowed him to add some territory to his kingdom.
The inhabitants of Tronganon who are owners of boats are obliged to freight them to the King, who sends them to Cambodia, Siam, China, and other places north of his estate. Some of them journey to Java, where they go to get some rice to provide his people, who do not harvest enough for their own consumption, in spite of the resources offered to them by their own country, which appears most fertile.
In the island one finds some cayenne-pepper, wax, bamboo, and a little gold. One can bring in exchange some goods of which the sale is certain, such as opium, iron, red, green, or purple cloths, a little canvas, some fine handkerchiefs from Paliacta, some black woven stuffs fine and light, and which we call “voile” (the inhabitants use this last for mourning), some swivel guns from ½ lb. to 4 lb. in weight, some bullets, good guns, saltpetre, sulphur, and gunpowder. All these goods are of an advantageous sale. It is necessary to be careful in choosing these goods as the Malays do not at all appreciate goods of an inferior quality. They consider them of no value.
The estate was governed, in the absence of the King, by one of his uncles already well advanced in years. He administered page 238 justice, and only did that. We witnessed an execution during our stay there; it will not take long to tell about it, and it will give an idea of how these people rendered justice. A young Malay had disappeared for about a fortnight. Some of his possessions were found with a man who was at once arrested and brought before the chief of the village to explain how he was found in possession of the absent one's belongings. He said he had found them in a wood where the young Malay had been murdered; he denied having committed the crime; but by the answers he gave to different questions put to him he was found guilty of murdering the young Malay. The cause of the murder was one which sometimes pushes men to the most violent acts, especially the Malays, who are furiously jealous people. A woman having had some subject of quarrel with the young Malay, had not much trouble in creating a deep hatred in the heart of the man she wished to become a murderer. This man, for different reasons, attracted his rival into the wood and stabbed him in the chest with a dagger which he was carrying. This dagger is a kind of knife which the Malays carry on the side, and which is nearly always poisoned. The murderer was immediately after the examination condemned to death. Next day, the 30th of July, 1769, they put him in a boat, hands tied behind his back, with half a dozen lancers. In the for-epart of the boat was a little fork to which was attached a little yellow flag. Now and then one of the lancers announced, with the accompaniment of tamtam, that any one who would commit a similar crime, either Malays or foreigners, would be submitted to the same fate. They then took him to an island reserved for these kind of executions, and put him to death by plunging into his belly the fork, which they call “King's iron.”
The finances and commerce were in the hands of the Sougdagar, a title given to the King's merchant. We cannot too highly praise his kind attentions to us; he took the greatest trouble to get us fresh provisions. We acknowledge in him a single way of trading and one parole only, which is not very common amongst the Asiatic merchants. This Sougdagar was rather well up in the political relations between France and England, he was quite open with us on a certain subject which he thought worthy of our attention. He told us that the Council of Calcutta had asked through Captain Jackson the concession of one of the Ridang Islands, or else permission to settle at Dongon, which is a day's journey from Tronganon. The King entirely refused them this last establishment, but had not yet decided about the Ridang Island, as he was anxious to ask the English to help him in a war against the Dutch. This page 239 King pretends that his ancestors had granted Malacca to the Portuguese to occupy it for a hundred years only. This term had expired long ago, and the King of Tronganon is very anxious to be in a position of retaking that place from the Dutch, to avenge his subjects for all the cruelties they have been subjected to.
The English, who know the importance of an establishment on this coast, either on account of the possible trade or on account of the proximity of the Philippines and of China, will make every possible effort, without doubt, to obtain Ridang. There is in that island an excellent port where they could shelter during the winter; the Malays send there all their boats to pass the bad season. With the help of this island the English could remain all the year round in the seas of China, and in case of a rupture with Spain, they would be handy to carry on any enterprise against the Philippines.
The coins in use at Tronganon are the piaster and the rupee. The actual value of the latter is inferior to its intrinstic value. The piaster is subdivided in eight parts called “Coupons,” of which three make a rupee. So that 100 piasters are worth as much as 266¾ rupees, which makes a loss of more tha 20 per cent. There is a little piece made of shells, and called “smale.” Four hundred shells are worth a coupon, or 3,200 for a piaster.
The weights are the same as at Malacca. They weigh by feet and caltis. The coyang which weighs about 4,800 of Holland, is measured here with a half-sphere of which the diameter is not more than 6 in. Eight hundred of these measures make a coyang, and in order to protect oneself against fraud one must be careful to only use the measures acknowledged to be exact by the King's people.
The natives call “Pulo Braba” the island called “Pulo Capar” in the charts of M. Daprès, situated in 4° 58′ north latitude, and they give to the village and river situated at the west of this island the name of “Palang” instead of “Tringan.” They assured us that there was gold in this river. The island which is near land by 5° 15′ north latitude is called by the natives “Pulo Capar.” There are 6 fathoms of water in the channel, but it is always safer to keep out to sea when one wants to anchor in front of Tronganon. The eastern part of this island is very abrupt. There are nothing but rocks, on which neither trees nor green plants grow.
We have entered into many details relative to the anchorage of Tronganon, because the vessels who might touch there can find all kinds of fresh provisions. The buffaloes and the fowls are very abundant there. There are fewer bullocks and sheep; but one can get as many as one wants, when one can wait, for page 240 they bring them from inland. Besides, everything is cheap. To get fresh water one has to go up the river for two or three leagues, where it is quite fresh.
The Customs duty is 10 per cent., payable in nature.
During our stay we observed that the tides were south-east and north-west. The wind rises from 8 o'clock to 10 o'clock a.m. from the S.E., and turns at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. to the S.S.W., with squalls from this point.
We set sail from Tronganon on the 2nd of August, with rather fine weather. On the 6th we sighted Pulo Condor, and on the 7th Pulo Sapate. We found that the currents carried rather violently to the N.E., for we had every day differences to the north by observing the latitude, and when we sighted Pulo Sapate we had about a difference of 38 leagues to the east, which difference must be attributed to the currents which follow the monsoons. We were also able to find the bottom all the way. It was never deeper than 40 fathoms, and, when getting nearer the islands, never less than 20 fathoms.
We went on our way to get a sight of the Philippine Islands, which we sighted on the 17th of August, by the latitude about 18° 24′. We went along the coast as soon as the wind allowed us, and it was not long before we were sighting the Babuyannes Islands, which lie north of the Island of Luzon. There we got some very good observations of latitude. These islands are marked too much south by 18′ to 20′ on the chart of M. Daprès.
Our observations and our taking of bearings concorded rather well with the Spanish chart of Father Murillo de Velarde, corrected by M. Bellin in 1752.
The northern part of the Island of Luzon is full of very high mountains, and covered with bush; the Babuyannes Islands are low and densely wooded. The bearing of these islands amongst themselves appeared fairly correct to us, but taking bearing from the Cape Boyador* we believe them to be too much west by 3 or 4 leagues in M. Daprès's chart.
The little island that M. Bellin marks on the chart by 19° 45′, and by longitude of 138° 18′ to the east of the Iron Island meridian, cannot exist in that point, as we passed that parallel without seeing it. The chart of M. Daprès does not give it, and therefore we are inclined to believe that it is an error of Father Murillo de Velarde.
Continuing our way to the north we came across the Bachy Islands. We dropped anchor between the Island Bachy and Monmouth.
* Cape Bogeador is the north-wet point of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Islands.
We only know, up to now, the explorer Dampier who ever spoke of these islands.* They had no name in 1587, when he stopped there, and he called them collectively by the name of “Bachy,” on account of a liquor that the natives call by that name.† The bachy is a drink made with the juice of the sugarcane, to which is added a kind of black seed, and left fermenting for two or three days. This beverage sometimes produces in-toxication; but we have never noticed that it had the same effects as wine, on the contrary, it puts the natives in a sweet humour.
M. de Surville was anxious to know himself this nation whose kindness Dampier praised so much.
Hardly had we dropped anchor than the natives came round us in their canoes, singing out, “Mapia, mapia,” which expression they use when wanting to express their approbation. We showed these natives the greatest signs of friendship to get them on board. They at first hesitated, but one of them, less nervous than the others, got on board, and all the others followed his example. We were not long in making out that these people were peaceful, and had good intentions. We gave them some little presents, and by that made them entirely friendly.
The Captain at once ordered a boat to be launched, and I got in it to go with him to the Island of Bachy, whose east coast is surrounded by breakers. The natives at once sent us a man to show us the channel. We landed, and they took us to a small spot five or six fathoms from the shore, and where there were five or six huts made of straw; they offered us some sweet potatoes and some yams which had been cooked by the women, and some bachy. The heat we had experienced coming up made us find this beverage good enough; we returned on board well satisfied with the reception we got from the natives.
The next day, the 21st, we went back to the island. I busied myself, with M. Charenton, one of the officers, in making the survey of the channel between Bachy and Monmouth Islands.
* Dampier called them the Bashee Islands. They had also been described by Anson in his “Voyage round the World,” published in 1747, pages 372, 383, and 384. The same voyagers also mentions Grafton and Monmouth Islands, the former having named them.
† Vide Harris's “Voyages,” London, 1744, vol. 1, p. 109: “The Natives call this liquor bashee; whence our crew gave this name to one of the isles.”
The good will of the natives did not change during the whole time we spent in the islands; they, always did all they could to procure for us all that we wanted.
The observations made by Dampier* agree in general with ours. We only notice a few slight differences, which could be explained by the more frequent relations of these natives with Europeans. The products of the islands we noticed were— sugar-canes, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, guavas, coconuts, and a kind of millet, the use of which we ignore. They also have a kind of bean, which they boil before eating. There are many pigs and goats, whose flesh seemed to us superior in taste to the ones of other countries. We saw very few fowls, and almost no birds.
The soil of these islands seems very fertile, and the natives make much of it. The Island of Bachy can be compared to a garden of which the larger part is very well cultivated. There are comparatively few trees, and they never attain a great size. The Natives no longer go about bareheaded, as mentioned by Dampier; most of them wear a round hat made of a kind of rush. They still wear a cape down to their middle. The women also wear this cape above their head, and with it shelter their child, which they carry under their arm.
We have not seen any of the Natives with circlets of gold, as mentioned by Dampier,† although they know gold well, and their country produces a certain quantity.
We showed them some gold several times and they always gave us to understand that gold was in an island about ten leagues further north. It is probable that these peaceful people have preferred to give up gold as an ornament, which might have been fatal to them, rather than lose their liberty. They distinguish gold from other metals by the smell. It is quite likely that these people undertake sea journeys of a certain duration, as they possess boats capable of carrying twenty or twenty-five people. The construction of these boats seemed very good either for speed or strength, although not a single iron nail is used. The planks are so well tied together that it is quite probable that their boats last as long as ours. We bought one of these boats, and it was of great service to us during our journey, and required but little repairs.
* Harris's “Voyages,” London, 1744, vol. 1, pp. 109 and 110.
† Harris's “Voyages,” vol. 1, p. 109.
The inhabitants of these islands are, in general, of ordinary size. Their hair is very black and thick. The men cut it evenly round the head and the women wear it longer. Their colour is very dark, almost like red copper. Their features are soft, their face a little round, their lips and their eyes slanting but not as much as the eyes of the Chinese or Malays. Their legs are badly shaped, and seem swollen, which is most likely due to the little care they take to shelter themselves from dampness while sleeping.
The women, besides the cape mentioned above and which they use to protect themselves against rain and cold, only wear a little apron which reaches down to their knees. They sometimes make of this apron, ornamented with glass beads of different colourings, a covering for nearly the whole leg. These women are very familiar, and mingled with us us easily as the men did. In general, they are ugly, their features are coarse, and they readily would pass for men if it was not for their breasts, which are uncovered.
I presume that Dampier gave to the word “cleanness” the same meaning it carries now. He praises the “cleanness” of these natives, and says it is wonderful. We found it quite the reverse, both in their clothes and in their way of eating. These people take refuge in the steepest hills, the foot of which rises from the sea. If they find natural rocks fit to use as walls they use them in preference, adding some stones if they are too low to form the enclosure of their houses and villages.
The town which I visited in the Island of Bachy is situated in the western part, facing the Island Cheires. It is quite surrounded by a wall 15 feet high. To get in the town they use a ladder, or steps, made in the wall.
From the foot to the top of the hill are houses divided in two or three by small enclosures, which probably have as their object the keeping up of the ground, which the rain would cause to slide to the lower ground.
Their houses are about 57½ feet high by 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. All the furniture consists of a few gourds, three or four little boards, and some earthen pots, in which they keep their provisions.
Anybody wanting to attack the town without firearms could not succeed in capturing it on the sea side, where the hill is very abrupt, and surrounded by a high wall; but coming from the eastern part of the island one would easily get on the top of he page 244 mountain. But the assailing party would require to be much superior in number to overpower the inhabitants of Bachy in their stronghold.
It is not very clear why people who possess nothing worth exciting the covetousness of men seek shelter in such inaccessible places, but it is rather easily explained when you come to think they are neighbours of some Chinamen who reside at Founore, and who are too fond of acts of piracy to allow them full use of their liberty. One easily understands then that they do everything in their power to preserve their freedom.
We have never noticed amongst these people any distinction of rank. Nobody seems to hold more authority than the other; one would think they all belonged to one family which enjoys complete union and eternal peace.
It is wonderful that such a people, placed as they are between the Chinese and the Malays, possess none of these peoples' faults. We know the Chinese to be cunning, sharp, and greedy, and the others haughty, treacherous, and cruel. None of these vices exist amongst the Bachians.
They have always shown us the greatest goodwill in helping us to get our provisions, and they would never take any pay for their services: they lent us their boats to bring the provisions, and would not allow the sailors to work when they could do their task, always without any idea of gain.
The provisions there are very cheap. For 1 piastre and an inferior Dutch knife you could get a pig. For two or three of these knives you got a kid. We could have repurchased the piastres, or at least we thought so, at a value of 15 francs in knives.
The inhabitants possess a large quantity of fishing-boats. Fishing is the occupation of the men. We have seen only the women tilling the earth.
They know perfectly well the use of iron, but do not give it the same value as when Dampier visited them. They generally make it into small bill-hooks.
M. de Surville had every cause to be satisfied with the good faith of the natives of Bachy. The day before our departure he gave them several piastres and some knives in exchange for some pigs: Next day they were quite exact in fulfilling their part of the bargain. In short, we did not experience anything from these natives but very humane treatment.
Three of our sailors deserted in this island on the eve of our departure, probably attracted by the good reception the natives had given us, and what they could tell us about some sailors belonging to Dampier's vessel and who had remained for some time on the island. The inhabitants had furnished page 245 each of them with a wife, a plot of cultivated land, an axe, and some implements for working the soil.
We only noticed the absence of our sailors the next day, when going back on board. M. de Surville went back, and made the natives understand that three of his men had spent the night on shore. The poor natives did not understand him, and he came back on board, and ordered six of the ones who were on the vessel to be seized, with one of their boats, believing they had helped our sailors to desert. As soon as they saw the first of their men seized, they gave the alarm to the others, who were in different parts of the vessel trading in the greatest security for something or another. Then they all got on deck and threw themselves into the sea to swim ashore. Several of them were hurt while jumping into the sea. Although there were a great number of them, we did not see a single attempt to put themselves on the defensive, or try to make a resistance. We made about twenty prisoners, which we took, hands tied behind their back, to the council room. One of the prisoners was clever enough to pass into the gallery without being seen, and he had the pluck to throw himself, tied as he was, in the sea, and he managed to reach one of their boats, which had put a long distance between themselves and our vessel, in order not to be interfered with.
One of our soldiers, who had, with the Spaniards, been in a war in the Philippines against the natives of that country, had learnt a few words of their language, which the Bachians understand fairly well. We called this soldier to explain to the prisoners that what we had done was only in order to get news of our sailors, and that we would let them free as soon as the deserters were brought back to the boat. They appeared to understand the soldier, and asked for some rope, with which to tie up whatever they brought back. We gave them some, and, except six of them, we let them go free. They throw themselves into their boat, which was too small to hold them all. We signalled for one of their other boats to come alongside, and they all looked immensely pleased to leave our vessel.
We thought their minds would be quite at rest concerning their six comrades, but, judge our surprise when we saw them coming back with three pigs, well tied up. We were talking to them about men and they only answered babouris, which in their language means “pig.” The one who had brought the pigs kept showing them to the captain while putting his head on the captain's shoulder, as if to ask if he was satisfied, and repeating the word mapia. M. de Surville made a sign that he was not satisfied, and put on such an angry look that the native went back to his boat in a great hurry. Several other boats page 246 came back loaded with provisions, which we took and paid for liberally. One of the natives had a pig, which he intended, without doubt for the ransom of one of his comrades, and he preferred to take it back rather than sell it at any price, having brought it for such a commendable object.
The above example, showing in a decided manner the good nature of the inhabitants of Bachy, must be our excuse for speaking so long about it.
M. de Surville, having waited twenty-four hours for the deserters, decided to set sail, as the tide was favourable, but before sailing he set free three of the Bachians, and sent them back after giving each of them 2 yards of calico. The other three, who were in the council chamber, gave signs of the greatest distress when they saw the high mountains of Monmouth Island disappear. Their grief, however, was short, and they lay down as if they wished to go to sleep. Shortly afterwards we gave them some shirts and drawers, which they accepted, laughing and making us understand that they were perfectly satisfied by using their expression mapia. Their hands, however, were kept tied, but they begged so hard from M. de Surville that he consented to let them go untied, and next day they looked as if they were the most contented on board. It is quite certain that at first M. de Surville thought that the natives of Bachy had helped the three sailors to desert, and although in the end he felt quite sure they had had nothing to do with the deserters, he kept three of them with him in order to get from them the information about their country and their ways of living. Moreover, he had intended to put them back on their island on his way back, and they were to be treated on board with the greatest kindness. Two of these poor fellows died of scurvy and the third is still in Lima, with the balance of the crew.*
During the voyage their conduct did in no way diminish the good opinion we had formed from the first of these people.
In the channel where we had anchored there are a few precautions to take to be in better security. We were a little too near the breakers, which are full of corals. By anchoring a little further north we would have found better bottom and more shelter. It is, in any case, necessary to have very strong cables, or, better still, to reinforce them with an iron chain a few fathoms in length. The whole of the east coast of the Island of Bachy is surrounded with breakers. The easiest pass is marked L on the chart.
* De Surville appears to have had a weakness for taking away captive natives. Compare his action later, when at New Zealand. French writers attribute the massacre of Marion, in 1772, to this failing of his.
The west part of Monmouth Island is very high, and landing there appears very dangerous. That island, in common with Bachy Island, is very thinly wooded, bush only being found in the valleys. Coming from the west, and when in sight of Cape Bojador, it is necessary to keep to the north to get to the Bachy Islands, in order to avoid the sea on the east of Cape Bojador (which is always rough), and not expose one-self to be thrown by the currents on the Babuyannes Islands, which are dangerous. We feared the latter on account of the calms.
We left the Bachy Islands on the 23rd of August. We got south of them, with west winds, and when we were about 4 leagues from them we took our course east ¼ south-east. At 6 o'clock p.m. we were well in the channel between the islands Monmouth and Grafton. It seems to be a good league wide and very safe all through. The sea breaks very strongly on the northern point of Monmouth Island, and we could see a rock well forward in the sea. This part of Monmouth is quite different from the opposite side, which is low and treeless.
In his journal*M. Anson says they were prevented by the winds from passing north of the Bachy Islands, and were obliged to pass through the channel between Monmouth and Grafton, where they found the sea very fierce. They thought at first there were breakers, but soon found that this fierceness of the sea was caused by the tides. We experienced the same thing at Bachy Island, and even people used to the sea could hardly believe that tides could produce such a sight.
By what we could see of Grafton Island it is about a third larger than Monmouth Island. It is very hilly, and one peak especially seems to be of a considerable altitude.
As soon as we were a certain distance from the islands we found a very rough sea, although the winds were ordinary.
On the 24th the course was given to south-east.
On the 26th we, for the first time, saw a comet, which must have been visible for several days. It rose in the S. ¼ S.E. at about 11 p.m.
Until the end of the month we had very changeable weather. Winds blew constantly from S.W. to W. rather fresh.
On the 1st of September the winds changed to the S.S.E. They afterwards constantly varied from S.S.E. to N. until the 2nd of the month. We experienced now and then some fine weather, some rain, and some thunder. We were then by 9° 44′ north latitude and 128° 38′ eastern longitude of the Paris meridian.page 248
Several charts give in that locality the Saavedra Islands*as well as the Martyrst† Matalotes, and Cafrisan Islands, but we never sighted any of them in the Caroline Islands or New Philippines, which by some other charts are shown in the same locality.
The changeable weather and the squalls we experienced, and the sight of some birds which never wander far from land, gave us to believe that we were in the vicinity of the islands. The currents carried us constantly to the south from 13° to the 9° latitude north. On the 7th of September we estimated we were by 130° 46′ of longitude and 8° 20′ latitude. We observed for the first time a variation of 1° 40′ N.E. We that day saw some birds which the sailors call “wing-beaters.” The wind was very changeable.
The next day the winds were very changeable too, and varied from W. to S.E. rather weak; and we had a lot of rain. The comet, mentioned above, rose on the night of the 8th in the east 3° 12′ at a quarter past 1 in the morning. From the 9th to the 12th of September we had constant signs of land. We saw many birds which never wander far away from land, some tide waves, and a large quantity of mangrove fruits. Our course lay much to the south. However, we did not get sight of land although we carefully kept sailors on the look-out.
During the night we only proceeded with short sails, and we were quite right in doing so, considering we were to attempt to reach the South Sea by that route. On the 13th of September we estimated our variation to be of 3° 30′ N.E. I judged our position then to be 3° 19′ northern latitude by 135° 19′ eastern longitude. The route was given on that day to the east so as to avoid being driven on the coast of New Guinea. We kept that route until the 21st of September, with rather fine weather and winds from S.W. to W. We had reason more than ever to think we were close to the land. Every day we passed many trees with enormous trunks, much sea wreck, some bullrushes, and some birds of different kinds. We caught a little curlew.
* The Saavedra Islands were called after Alvaro de Saavedra, who is supposed to have visited them in 1528.—“Encyclopedia Britannica,” 9th ed., vol. 5, p. 126.
† The Matelotas Group.
On the 23rd we passed the line of the equator by an estimated longitude of 145° 32′.* M. de Surville's observation was more to the west than mine by 1°.
Until then the monsoon of the S.W. had constantly been with us except for the variations mentioned. As soon as we reached the line we were much bothered by the winds, the calms, and the rain. We remained, so to speak, under the line until the end of September. We saw several serpents and one small turtle.
I must here mention that the currents constantly carried us to the south since we had had signs of land, and not a day passed without us having considerable differences in the estimation of the latitude. We had reason to believe the currents to carry to the south-east, because we noticed several tide-ways of which the direction was S.E.-N.W.
From the 1st of October to the 6th we continued to get indications of close land; the winds were very changeable, and we had much rain. The currents changed, and we began to have slight differences north although our route was nearly always south-east.
We could not have any doubt of the proximity of land; everything pointed to it. Every one on board was wishing for land, in order to rest on it for some time, and recover from the hardships of the voyage, which had been very hard until then for the crew, for since our departure from Pondichery we had only put in port in places where the sailors had more hard work than on sea. That land for which we were all wishing so much was the cause of all our misfortunes.
On the 6th of October several on board thought they saw the land on the S.S.W. Next morning at daybreak there could be no doubt; we saw land between S.E. and W.S.W. on the compass. We sounded without finding bottom. The wind, which was from the east, obliged us to tack about shortly after.
At noon of the same day, 7th of October, we observed 6° 55′ of southern latitude and 151° 29′ eastern longitude of Paris. At this time we saw in the S. ½ S.E. of the compass an island which we named “First Sight Island.” A little further up we saw a rather high mountain on the S. 5° W. which we called “Big Hill.” From there started a chain of mountains extending to the W. ¼ S.W. as far as one could see.
* This would indicate that the writer was first officer.
According to the distance we estimated we were from this island, we put down its latitude at 7° 15′, and therefore could consider ourselves the first to sight this land. Dampier fixes the most southern point of “New Britain” Island at 6° 30′. He kept sight of this island all the while he remained in the channel, which is named in our charts “Dampier's Strait.”
We do not know of any explorer who has spoken of any land between New Britain Island and the Holy Ghost land, discovered by Quiros. We can therefore consider ourselves the first to sight the land we have spoken of above. We, however, find in the journal of M. de Bougainville that he sighted part of the same land.
We observed a variation of 12° N.E., but thought it too much. The subsequent observations in sight of all these lands did not give more than 9°.
We tacked about until the next day, trying to get under the wind from First Sight Island. In the morning we passed over a bank where we found 27 fathoms, bottom of red coral, mixed with shells and sand. We sounded again shortly afterwards, and found 31 fathoms, then we lost bottom. In the distance we could see the sea of a different shade, which made us think there was another bank.
We did not make any headway towards the east in spite of all our. tacking about. On the contrary, we found by our observations that the currents had carried us towards the west.
At noon we could see land, very far away, from E.S.E. 3° to W. ¼ N.W. 3° W. of the compass.
In the afternoon M. de Surville sent M. Labé, his first officer, with a few soldiers to visit the First Sight Island. M. Labé coasted right round it without finding a place fit to land. At 5 p.m. this island was lying to the S.E. ¼ E. 2° of the compass.
Two leagues from the island we found 45 fathoms, bottom of shells, resembling shellfish, and other shells of a red colour. A little further south than the First Sight Island we could see four small islands and the big hill we spoke of above. This hill seems to be the western point of an immense bay.
The winds were very changeable, and we had much calm on that day. We noticed on that day at 9 p.m. that the sky was much brighter behind the big hill, which made us believe that it was a volcano.
On the 9th we advanced a little towards the east; we discovered some other very high lands, and in the south of the First Sight Island we saw very high mountains, about 15 leagues from the island.
It would be tiresome to give all the details concerning the different routes we followed along that coast. The reduced page 251 chart affixed to this journal will explain better than any writing. This chart was made, like the landscapes, by M. Charanton, one of our officers, who adds to his good qualities as a sailor a great geographical knowledge.
I shall only say that after advancing towards the east about 40m. of the First Sight Island (which took us up to the 13th of October) M. de Surville made up his mind to look for an anchor-age on that coast, as the winds would not allow us to double it. He ordered a boat to be launched. M. Labé got on board with four soldiers and a sufficient number of sailors to man the boat. Shortly after we saw him enter a kind of port where he found a good anchorage. As soon as we saw the signal agreed upon M. de Surville put about, in order to reach that anchorage.
On the way, we saw coming out of a channel a boat in which was one man. He came as near as the voice would carry, and made us signs to come to him: On our side we tried to induce him to come on board. We kept showing him a little white flag, the sign of peace amongst most nations, but we could not persuade him.
M. Labé came back on board, and M. de Surville gave him the command of the vessel. We sounded several times without finding bottom. As soon as we got to the entrance of the port, which is formed by several islands, we first found bottom of coral at 55 fathoms. The western point of the island, which is on the left coming in, was then at our E. ¼ N.E. We at last arrived in that port where we dropped anchor by 24 fathoms white sand bottom, too near the entrance, because all at once we were surprised by a dead calm. We had to drop another anchor on account of a reef which was very near us, and on which we were drifting.
This port appeared to us to be magnificent, and full of resources in the circumstances we were in. Sheltered from every wind, we purposed to spend several days there quietly. Since we had sighted land the scurvy had made great advances amongst the crew. There were then more than thirty suffering from it, and every day the evil was increasing. It was then with the greatest joy we saw that the land was inhabited. We were flattering ourselves that we would derive great advantages for our sick ones, but we will soon see that they suffered greatly by the landing, and that the ones then in good health had later on to blame it for all the inconveniences they suffered afterwards.
The entrance of the port is by 7° 25′ of south latitude and by 151° 55′ eastern longitude of the Paris meridian. M. de Surville named the port “Praslin Port.”page 252
On the day we anchored there we loaded all our guns, and put in order all the firearms, in order to defend ourslves in case the natives attacked us. The attitude of these natives and the arms they carried made us think they were war-like.
As soon as our anchor was down, two or three canoes came to look us over. M. de Surville made some trifling presents to the natives, and showed them every sign of friendship. They only answered him by pointing to the far end of the port, making signs that we would find there food and drink.
One of them, however, more venturesome than the rest, put an arrow to his bow, and made a sign as if wanting to throw it against our vessel. He looked as if he wanted his comrades to do the same, if one could judge by his manners and the threatening tone of his voice. We showed him the white flag, and sent tohim as well as to his companions some bottles and pieces of calico, which appeared to make him friendly towards us.
The canoes went back to pass the night on the island situated on the right coming into the port. We were so near the island that we could quite distinctly see and hear them. They spent all the night there, keeping up a large fire and, what appeared rather strange, repeating word for word all that they could hear from our vessel.
Next day, the 14th, we sent on a cable 40 fathoms from the vessel to get further inside the port. Several canoes came that day. Nothing we did escaped the notice of these natives; we tried everything to induce them to come on board. At last several of them came on board, carrying big clubs, made of a very heavy wood. We were careful, however, only to allow a few of them on board, as their number by far exceeded the number of our men in good health.
These natives presented us with some shells and a kind of almond very similar to the badame. One of them appeared more anxious than the others to be of use to us, which made M. de Surville more anxious to conciliate him by some small presents. He gave us to understand that he would show us to a place at the end of the port where we would find food and water.
Shortly before noon M. de Surville ordered two boats to be lowered, and put in command M. Labé, his first officer, in whom he had great confidence, both for his prudence and his courage. The sailors were provided with cutlasses, and the soldiers carried their guns and ammunition. M. de Surville, nephew of our captain, commanded one of the boats under the orders of M. Labé. Hardly had they left the vessel than all the canoes followed them, and kept with them to the end of the port. During the journey the natives kept going to and fro, and talking hard all the time. At first it did not seem unnatural page 253 to us, as our arrival was bound to cause great excitement amongst these people.
While M. Labé was at the top end of the port, M. de Surville, in company of some of his officers, was hunting on one of the islands. What was our surprise when we heard ourselves being loudly called. M. Labé had just landed on the island where we were, towing some native boats, and with several of his men severely wounded. He told us that when they got to a rather narrow place, thickly surrounded by scrub, the natives made signs to them that there was water there. The locality seemed to M. Labé rather suspicious, and he did not have his boats beached, as the natives seemed to want him to do; he only sent four men with some natives to have a look at the watering-place. He was getting rather anxious when the four men came back saying that they had been taken to a place where they only found water left there by the rain which had fallen about an hour ago. This event made M. Labé more wary. However, he was conducted to another place, where he met with the same difficulty. The sergeant in command of the four men he had sent was indeed taken to a place where there was a little water flowing from a rock. The natives deserted them there, and it was only with much difficulty that they found their way back to the boats by narrow passes through the scrub. During this time the natives did all in their power to induce M. Labé to beach his boats. They attempted to pull them ashore themselves, and wanted to tie them to trees. But M. Labé would not allow that. Besides this, the natives tried to separate our sailors by inducing them to go and gather some coconuts, which are there in great quantities. Our men were quite willing, but the officers prudently would not allow them. M. Labé was more than two and a half leagues from the vessel, and as it was getting rather late, and he did not think he could do more that day, he gave orders to everybody to re-embark.
As soon as the savages, who numbered at least 150, saw these preparations, they put themselves in an attitude of fight. Several of our men assured us that they began by a religious act. An old native raised his eyes to heaven, also his hands, muttering some words, and seeming to exhort them to do their best.
The first act of hostility was accomplished on one of the soldiers, who got his hat torn by a blow from a club while he was getting on board. M. Labé then gave orders to fire, but that did not prevent the natives from wounding several men, among whom was the sergeant, who received a blow from a lance above the hip. He died of that wound three days after. During his illness the surgeon was very perplexed by the cause of it. He page 254 could only see a slight wound, to which could not be attributed the great pain in which the soldier was. He suspected that some foreign matter had got into the wound, but could not find it with the probe. He opened the wound after the death of the man, and found a piece of lance six inches long embedded in the vertebra with such a force that in order to extract it he had to use pinchers and break the bone with a hammer.
The first discharge of firearms on the natives astonished them so much that they remained immovable. It was all the more murderous as they stood all together only a dozen yards away.
The astonishment produced by the discharge of firearms gave time to fire another volley, which the natives could not stand. They fled to the woods in a great hurry, leaving thirty or forty killed or wounded on the battlefield.
As soon as the natives had disappeared M. Labé took a few of the canoes, and had the others broken and set fire to. He ordered some arms and other things, which the natives had with them, to be gathered. We had three or four of our men wounded, M. Labé himself receiving a blow from a stone on the leg and two arrows in the thigh. Although his wounds were slight, ten months after this adventure they were still bleeding, which made us believe that the arrows were poisoned.
Coming back to the vessel we noticed on the little island in the north-west, situated at the entrance of the port, five or six natives. We thought we could make them prisoners on land, but, although we were quite near, they were clever enough to launch their canoe and embark. We manœuvred so as to cut off their escape and were able to fire on them. One of them was wounded, and fell in the water, and after he got on shore we saw him crawling on all fours to the wood; the others also swam ashore, and we never found them again.
The intention of M. de Surville was to get hold of one of these natives and to get him to show us a place where to get water. Besides, he had recourse to that last act of hostility only to give these people an idea of our strength, and thus prevent them from attacking us again. They could very well have given us a great deal of trouble if they had known our real situation.
After that skirmish we saw two men in a canoe, who came to examine us attentively. We employed to attract them an expedient which was rather successful. We got two of our Kaffir sailors in one of the canoes previously captured; we arranged them somewhat like the natives; they kept making the same signs they had noticed the savages making, and were so successful that the natives in the canoe came much nearer the vessel. We at once sent two boats to give chase, but turning quickly they fled, gaining in speed on our boats. We tried to page 255 stop them by firing on the canoe. One savage was killed, and as he fell overboard the canoe was capsized. The second native tried to reach the nearer island, swimming; but before he got there we caught up to him. He fought with much courage, and having no weapon, he used his teeth, and bit any one coming near him. I will have occasion later on to speak about this native. Towards the middle of the night two canoes came to examine us; we fired on them and wounded several natives, judging by the cries of pain we could hear.
On the 15th we took our prisoner on the island situated in the east, so as he could show us a place to get some water. He took a rather long route, and, on the way, without anybody noticing it, he got hold of a piece of shell with which he managed to cut part of the ropes he was bound with. However, we noticed it in time, and afterwards kept a better watch on him. As he made us signs that we were near the water M. de Surville allowed him to guide us on, although still afraid to see him escape somehow. He was, however, really leading us to a watering-place, but one of our soldiers having found another proper place, we stopped there. The young prisoner was then taken back to the vessel, but, before, he kept rolling himself on the shore, making horrible cries to attract his companions, and biting the ground in a great rage.
We got all the water we wanted at that place, and were not troubled any more, on account of our firing on the canoes every time they put in an appearance.
It was impossible for us to get from that country anything but water, firewood, and some palm cabbages, which are very abundant there. The land near our anchorage was very swampy. The heavy rains which fell during our stay in that port, together with other difficulties we met with, made nearly all of us ill; several died of scurvy.
M. de Surville seeing he could not get anything but what has been mentioned from this anchorage, made up his mind to leave such an unwholesome place. Besides, the entrance of that port had a bad bottom. We drifted continually, which might have proved fatal.
We remained until the 21st of October in Port Praslin. We drew up all the anchors except the small one, to which we fixed a side cable to bring the vessel to larboard. It was necessary to take these precautions as the entrance to the port is so narrow that two vessels can hardly enter it together. We left the long boat behind to raise the anchor, and she rejoined us at sea.
One can affirm that Port Praslin is one of the most beautiful in the world. It is formed by hundreds of small islands, which almost join the main land, and near which the bottom is deep page 256 enough to allow the vessels to be tied up to the trees. It stretches from 3 leagues from north to south, and nearly every part of it is sheltered from every wind. This country appears one of the most beautiful existing; it is very woody, and without doubt must abound with fresh provisions, but unfortunately we could not ascertain the latter. We only visited the land near the shore. Although the land is very swampy, there are many trees of many varieties. There are many palm-trees, wild-coffee trees, and we think we saw some ebony-trees. We also found there some tacamacas, and several other trees which produce resin and balm. But what surprised us most was that the wood we cut down for use on board, when thrown in the water, gave it a red tint, very striking. I heard later on that one of the sailors cut some bark and boiled it, and from it extracted some red dye, with which he dyed some pieces of calico.
The natives in general are of a well-proportioned height, and their complexion is good. Amongst them are some very black ones, and others are much lighter. Their hair is woolly and very soft to feel. Their forehead is narrow, their countenance rather sinister, and different from the Kaffirs, in that the nose is not so flat nor the lips so thick. They cut the hair only round the head; they powder it with lime, which gives the appearance of being yellow. They also powder their eyebrows.
The lobe of the ear is pierced, and of an exaggerated length. They fix in the lobe of the ear sometimes a ring, sometimes leaves of different trees, or some flowers. The nose is also pierced. They place a rather big peg in the hole when they are old enough.
They wear a bracelet above the elbow, and round the neck an ornamant which resembles a comb, made of a white stone, which they hold in great esteem, according to the young savage we captured. They possess several kinds of bracelets.
Several amongst us thought that these people were cannibals, because they wear round the neck, collars made with the teeth of several kinds of animals: some even have human teeth, but we have no proof that this conjecture is true. The young native we have on board showed a great horror when asked about these things, and he has always denied having ever seen his people commit this crime.
The weapons of these natives are the bow and arrow, the lance, and some clubs about 2 ½ ft. long made of a very heavy wood. Their arrows are very dangerous, as they make them of several pieces joined together by a kind of very hard cement, and some fragments are bound to remain in the wound they make. The point is made of a bone which they sharpen to a page 257 fine point. They generally use the bone found in the tail of a fish called “sea devil.” To guard themselves against arrows, they carry a shield made of Tantan cane.
At the end of their lances they put a bone about 6 in. long. It is impossible to withdraw this bone from the flesh without tearing it badly, on account of the notches they make in it.
Their boats are very well constructed, and of a wonderful speed. Both ends are very high, evidently to guard against the arrows. Some of their boats are very large. The day after our arrival one boat came to us which was 56 ft. in length by 3 ½ ft. wide. The boards of the smaller boats are very thin and joined with a kind of cement, blackish, and very hard. On the boats one can sometimes see some incrusted mother-of-pearl.
The way we were received in this country induced us to find a name characteristic of this nation. Therefore we called the part we discovered Arsacides Coast. Arsacides, according to some authors, means “murderers.”
The young black we took prisoner in Port Praslin gave us some information relative to his people. I believe what he told us (except what was dictated by prejudice), as I have always, during the two years he was with us, found him to be perfectly fair in everything. He is entirely guided by nature, if one can use such an expression about him, and his expressions were always dictated by his sensations.
The young man (his name is “Lova Saregua”—Lova in his own language means a small fish) could only have been thirteen or fourteen years of age when we captured him. Hardly had he been two months with us when we perceived the facility with which he could learn our language. But the progress he would otherwise have made in learning our language was made much slower on account of his two or three months sojourn with the Spaniards. After that space of time however, he managed quite well to make himself understood in both languages.
What astonished him most in Lima was the size of the houses. He could not imagine it, and, thinking that their solidity was but small, he tried to shake the walls. His surprise increased daily on seeing the occupations and works of Europeans, and he soon acknowledged these last to be superior to his own people.
During the whole journey from Port Praslin to the Peruvian coast M. de Surville had this young man always at his own table. The black acknowledged this as a favour, because the other blacks were treated quite differently. At the death of M. de Surville he withdrew on his own account, and offered to wait on us.page 258
We paid him every kind of attention, and without doubt he deserved them by his good qualities, and, far from abusing our kindness, he all the time acknowledged it as a real favour. The only fault we found in him was a slight movement of despair, caused by his too great susceptibility, but that gesture was always directed against himself and did not last. He has a sharp mind, and learns willingly whatever he is taught. He would certainly be able to read now if he had been taught.
I have to acknowledge his perfect honesty. He is rather fond of decorating himself, but by what I could see he could easily give that up. He knows the value of money, but does not seem to value it as much as that knowledge would warrant. After all, he is only anxious to satisfy his appetite. To end this description, which has lasted long enough, we can safely say this Native is of a most happy disposition, and will certainly avoid the faults common to most men.
We know from this young black that war is constantly raging in his country. The prisoners of war are made slaves, and wait on their conquerers. Plurality of wives is allowed.
The King's authority is absolute. Every one of his subjects must bring to him the products of his fishing, and other productions of the country, before taking any to his own dwelling-place; if they fail to do so, they are severely punished. If by chance it happened that some one walked on the King's shadow, he would instantly be put to death; however, added the young black, if it happened to be one of the chiefs, possessor of much wealth, he could obtain his pardon.
We could not get any satisfactory explanation about the religion of his country. He says, however, that men at their death are supposed to go to Heaven from where they come back every now and then to speak with their people. When we tried to make young Lova understand that it was absurd to believe in ghosts he replied that he was certain of their existence, and that he had heard some of them. They come, he said, always during the night, and mention the places where fishing will be most successful, and bring good and bad news. He maintains his opinion strongly when he is told that it is impossible, by declaring that nobody on board can know better than he what takes place in his own country.
The people most highly looked upon by the Arsacides are medicine-men. The calling of medicine-men belongs only to the old people. Lova has a much higher opinion of the medical men of his own country than of ours; he thinks the latter make the illness last too long.page 259
The young girls are destined from infancy for marriage; and they go to live in the house of the father of their husband until they become marriageable.
One custom usual after the death of rich people is rather peculiar. They build a scaffold, on which they place the corpse. Underneath they dig a hole. The rain or time causes all the greasy parts of the body to fall in the hole, which is then covered with earth, and they build on the grave a kind of a small house, or, rather, a mausoleum. If it is a child only flowers are deposited on the grave. They then take the skull and the bones and carry them to a place reserved for common burial.
The trading of the Arsacides cannot be very extensive, if we judge by the length of ten or twelve days of their voyages. They guide themselves at sea by the motion of the stars, of which they can distinguish several.
The young black told us that his father often made such voyages to a nation much less black than his own. He brought back from there some fine calico, with big patterns on it, and which was used for belts.
The productions of that country which young Lova mentioned are bananas, sugar-canes, yams, coconuts, aniseed, and a kind of almond, of which they are very fond. There is also a kind of fruit which he never could see in America, and of which we never could get a satisfactory description. The Arsacides for food principally use turtle flesh and eggs, which are in great quantity; they also have fish, and make great use of a certain plant which they call “binao,” and which they eat instead of bread.
We showed Lova all the spices we made use of; he only knew in his country of one tree, very tall, and of which the bark tasted like cinnamon, but he prefers the bark which grows in his country. The natives make use of it mixed with betel, cabbage-palm, and lime.
They use for lighting purposes, during the night, resin extracted from the tree which produces the almond previously spoken of. The resin is greasy and oily, and while burning emits rather an agreeable odour.
The Arsacides do not know any metal. They use for cutting wood a stone axe, very hard, and of a slate colour, and for cutting their hair they use a stone similar to the gun-flint.
We only saw fishermen's huts, but Lova assured us that in the interior the Arsacides have some large villages. We did not see any four-footed animals, although, according to what Lova says, there are many wild pigs. The cockatoos, orioles, and wild pigeons are very numerous. The pigeons appeared to us to be much bigger than those elsewhere.page 260
On comparing what we saw of those people with ones of whom Dampier and other travellers who have travelled through those countries speak, we have no doubt about their belonging to the same race of men: they have the same arms, the same boats, the same bravery, everything seems to confirm that opinion.
We left several written notices of taking possession of that country in the name of His Most Christian Majesty in the place where we got our water, situated on the east of our anchorage. We also left several written notices to apprise anybody who might land in that country of the ways of the natives.
During our stay in Port Praslin the wind blew nearly constantly from N.E. to E. We had a lot of rain, to which we may attribute the fever which attacked most of the crew.
I have previously said that we left Port Praslin on the 21st of October, 1769. The south winds which we met with next day allowed us to go up a little in the east.
On the 23rd we picked up a little deserted boat made of banana roots, and on which was erected a little wooden hut.
On the 24th we had rather fine weather, but with easterly winds, which compelled us to tack about all day, and to keep in sight a coast which we much desired to lose sight of.
On the 26th we thought we were at the eastern point of the coast, as we had lost sight of land. In the morning, towards noon, we sighted a little island which we named “Unexpected.” It is situated by 7° 54′ of south latitude at about 4 leagues to the south-west of the compass. It resembled an arrow whose head would be the eastern point of the island. We noticed some small hills on it in the west. It was very low everywhere else, and covered with trees. Its distance from the coast might be about 9 leagues.
We had rather changeable winds on the 27th, 28th, and 29th; however, we could rise a little towards the east.
On the 30th we sighted another island, which we could not double as soon as we wished to on account of the currents and the calms. It was named “Contrariety Island.” Its position is by 9° 46′ of southern latitude and at 4° 52′ east of First Sight Island. The aspect of it is charming, and it presents to the eye a beautiful scene. The island seems well cultivated in several places, and we believe it is thickly populated, judging by the number of boats which we saw coming from it, and of fires we discovered during the night in different parts of the page 261 island. One can see a view of this island on chart No. 8. It is hardly ten leagues distant from the coast.
During the three days we remained in sight of this island several canoes, manned by the same race of men we had seen at Port Praslin, came round us. We tried with signs to persuade them to come on board, but it was only after a lot of useless demonstrations that one of them, at last plucking up his courage, dared to come on board. He first got hold of some clothing belonging to a sailor, and we had great trouble to make him give it up. Then he jumped on the flag which was flying at the poop, brought it to, probably with the intention of appropriating it, but we made him give it up; he then climbed the mizzenmast with as much ease as the best sailor, and, after having at leisure overlooked the ship, he came down by himself on deck, and addressing all his companions, he exhorted them to come on board to him. Nothing could be more singular than the rapid gestures of this islander. One could have believed that all his gestures and high-toned voice were to make believe, but I think that there was more fear than courage in it. He made us understand that he was chief of all the people with him.
The vessel was surrounded by about thirty canoes, in most of which was a good supply of arrows, lances, and spears, whose points were notched. About a dozen men at last ventured to come on board at the invitation of the first islander, and by their signs they would have made us believe that we would be well treated on their island and would want for nothing, if the Natives at Port Praslin had not acted in the same way to us.
They remained on board about an hour. While they were going away one of these savages passed his hand through the porthole of the pantry, caught hold of a bottle, and threw himself into the sea before the keeper could prevent him. The beauty of this island induced M. de Surville to pay it a visit, and for that object he had a boat lowered and M. Labé with four soldiers got into it.
Hardly had he got away to half-gun range from the vessel than he was surrounded by four canoes. The savages were already fixing arrows to their bows, but M. Labé, well up in their tricks, did not give them time to proceed further, but ordered a volley to be fired on them. We saw it all from the vessel, and the discharge of a few big guns soon put the canoes to flight. M. Labé was recalled. This event took place at about 3 in the afternoon. At 6 p.m. a large quantity of canoes got page 262 together, and came in battle order, at about a long-gun carry of the vessel. We did not wait to further inquire their purpose; four discharges from the big guns loaded with grape shot dispersed that army. Seemingly a few of the islanders lost their lives. It was much against his will that M. de Surville gave up the project of anchoring near the island. The nearer we got to it the more we regretted having found such inhospitable people.
Young Lova several times assured us that he did not at all understand the language of the inhabitants of Contrariety Island. They tried to induce him to come to them, but he seemed to make little of their offer. He even asked by signs to be given a bow and some arrows, to let fly at these people, with a certain success.
The canoes of these islanders are far less ornamented than the ones belonging to the Natives of Port Praslin. The one belonging to the chief especially was the most curious and the best constructed. On the forepoint is fixed a kind of little flag made of several tufts of straw, dyed red. The back part is ornamented with some little sculptures, representing animals, without doubt belonging to the country, but especially dogs, which are there in a great quantity. A good many of these people wear in their nose a round ornament made of mother-of-pearl, on which are described several black circles; some have a triangle. On other parts of their body they wear a lot of aromatic plants. They go about perfectly naked. On the 3rd of November we sighted three other small islands, which we named the “Three Sisters,” on account of their perfect similarity. They lay N.W. ¼ N. 3° N. at about 1 ¾ leagues from one another. The one in the middle is about the same longitude as Contrariety Island by a southern latitude of 10° 16′.
On the 4th we had very changeable weather. The calms having come suddenly on us near the coast made us fear of drifting on it, because the currents carried us to it. Fortunately, in getting nearer, their direction changed to S.W. Several canoes came near us. The Natives made the same signs as the previous Natives had made, but would not hazard themselves on board.
Keeping on our way to the south-east we sighted two small islands at about 3 leagues from the coast. They were situated by the southern latitude of 10° 57′, and more to the east by 5° 22′ than the First Sight Island. These two islands are flat and woody. The coast, on the contrary, is very hilly, and forms page 263 in that locality a cape which has been named “Cape Oriental,” and the two little islands were named “Deliverance Islands.” The land after Cape Oriental must lie to the south-west, for in pursuing our route to the south-east we soon lost sight of it. The latitude of Cape Oriental is the same as that of the Deliverance Islands, its longitude being about 6′ more to the west.
We at last left that land where most of our crew had fallen ill. There hardly passed a day without two or three of our men dying. In a very short time we lost about thirty men.
Here we must mention that the reduced chart of the Arsacides has been drawn from the observations of the vessel only, and therefore cannot be as accurate as could be wished, but one can be certain that the latitudes are correct, and the position determined correctly enough. The longitude marked on it is an average longitude from every point of the vessel.
From First Sight Island to Cape Oriental we noticed that the currents carried us constantly to the south. All along that coast the land is covered with high mountains.
According to our young Arsacidian, these lands might only be a large agglomeration of islands. He assures us that one finds the sea on the other side of his country, and that it is without bottom.
We will not give in this extract the situation of all the maps added to it. It would be too long and too wearying, and besides one can find in M. de Surville's journal all that is required on the subject.
After leaving that coast our route was to the south-east from the 7th to the 12th of November, and when we got in latitude 14° we put our course to the south and to the S. ¼ S. W., in order not to miss New Zealand, where it was absolutely necessary to go in order to get our crew well again. We had the fair winds which blow generally in the tropics, and the weather in general was rather fine.
On the 4th of December we noticed the sea changing. Some dry cuttle-fish, some seaweed, and some birds. These indications of land made us think that Diemen Land advances towards the east, and might adjoin New Guinea. I estimated our position on that day at a southern latitude of 36° 26′ by an eastern longitude of 152° 12′. The variation was observed to be 9° 19′ north-east. We continued our route to the south as far as the 35° of latitude, according to our estimation. The next day the route was given to the east.
[The journal is continued in French with the English translation on the opposite page.]