From Tasman To Marsden.
The only event of the year, outside of those which form the subject of the two succeeding chapters, was the discovery of great volcanic changes in operation at Sunday Island on the Kermadecs. These Islands, though not often mentioned by whaling captains, were, there is every reason to believe, often visited by the whalers for supplies of wood, and it was on the occasion of one such visit by the Jefferson to Sunday Island that Captain Barnes met with the experiences thus described in the columns of the Sydney Gazette on his return:
“From the 24th to the 27th [February] Captain Barnes was employed in wooding there; and while the boats were on shore the vessel sailed to and fro within a spacious bay on the West side of the Island, formed as a crescent, the heads of which were about 5 miles asunder. Actuated by a curiosity which must be always serviceable to navigation, that of discovering the soundings of every part which vessels frequent, Captain Barnes employed himself attentively in the business of sounding between these heads, and in no part found less than 45 fathoms. Further in, the depth gradually diminished, and after penetrating till within a short distance of the inner shore, he there found 16 fathoms. Leaving the Island on the 27th of February, it was afterwards frequently in sight till the 8th of March, when at the distance of 6 or 7 leagues, a thick cloud of a dark smoky appearance was observed above it the whole day, and shortly after midnight a flame burst forth, which rose to an excessive height, and filled the atmosphere with a strong fetid and an almost suffocating vapour, which was felt on board, tho' then at the distance of about 7 leagues. Captain Barnes returned to the Island in 2 months, for the purpose of wooding as before, and found page 151 the appearance of the place entirely altered, and that an Island occupied the spot where so short a time before he had found 45 fathoms of water. It is about three miles in circuit, kidney shaped, its outer edge nearly forming a line with the heads, or opposite points of the entrance of the former bay, which lays N. and S., has a small bay of its own fronting the ocean, and is covered with a course grit. On the near approach of the ship's boats the water became very warm, and at length intensely hot: it was still smoking, and was then evidently an unquenched mass. Its position is not midchannel, but extends considerably more towards the North shore than the South. A passage through the opening on the North side would be impracticable, owing to numerous rocks which are scattered through it—but that on the South seems rather inviting to vessels in want of temporary accommodation with safe anchorage. Captain Barnes has subsequently fallen in with the King George, Captain Jones, of this port, and on relating the above circumstance, received information from him, that the King George had been there shortly before the Jefferson, and that he (Captain Jones), had himself also sounded between and within the heads, and could find no soundings at all with a common lead line in those places where Captain Barnes had found a depth of only 40 fathoms. The idea that has suggested itself from comparing Captain Jones's information with Captain Barnes's own observations is, that this eruptive pile was palpably in the act of growing out of the abyss when the latter was there, and got soundings of 45 fathoms, the depth diminishing as he went nearer in. The visible extent of its surface, added to the vast height to which it must necessarily have arisen, must fill the mind with astonishment. That Vesuvius might have sprung originally from the like causes, is not impossible; its first eruption took place in the first century of the Christian Æra; and we do not find anything more remarkable in what is recorded of those that have since taken place than the throwing page 152 up of a mountain in one night in the year 1583, three miles in circumference, & a quarter of a mile high: while the island reported to have been thrown up in the bay of Sunday Island may be considerably larger, as its summit is three miles round, and it appears to have a gradual and not a steep ascent."
The Jefferson had sailed from Sydney in June 1813, and had spent most of her time, between that date and her return to Sydney in September 1814, on the coast of New Zealand.
The development of the volcanic changes at Sunday Island was as phenomenal as the changes in the first instance. In November of the year 1814, and during the first month of the year 1815, they were the subject of observation by the captain and officers of a whaler called the Catherine, who supplied the result of these observations in the following words:—
“Within the harbour, which is open to the west, the boats proceeded to the inmost part, and there found a narrow beach of black sand, and a small lagoon of fresh water, about which were some trees bearing among their branches immense quantities of pummiced stone, that had fallen among them during the eruption. This stone is very light, and much resembles masses of brimstone divested of their weight by calcination. The land at the back of the lagoon immediately becomes steep and inaccessible from the shore; birds were numerous, particularly the ‘mutton bird,’ but no living animals of any other description were seen. On returning in January they were not a little surprised to find that the newly emerged island had altogether disappeared, whilst another, differing both in size and form, being considerably larger, had arisen at a small distance from the spot it had occupied. One of the boats landed upon it, but found the heat of the surface too intense to admit more than a momentary stay. On revisiting the interior of the harbour, where were situated the lagoon and narrow ledge of black sand, the whole had visibly sunk to the page 153 depth of two feet, and should it fall eventually below the surface of the sea, will leave nothing but a precipice which will render the landing there impracticable. While the boat's crew were on the last risen island, or pile of heated matter, it was in a constant state of tremor, from which circumstance the disappearance also of this second mass would possibly be the less surprising. That so extraordinary a combination of phenomena should excite awe and dread in the minds of the sailors might easily be imagined; and from hence arose the following ludicrous adventure. Another boat from the ship had landed on the main island, to assist the former in wooding. In her was a tall stout athletic man of colour, with enormous whiskers. Leaving his companions, to go in search of eggs, he took off his shirt, and converted it into a bag to contain them. He procured a number of eggs, mostly of the mutton bird, and when laden shaped his course towards the place where he had left his fellow boatmen. It happened by this time, however, that the crew of the other boat, full of wonder, mystery, and apprehension, had crossed the narrow channel which separated the burning region from the main, and not conceiving that their gigantic mulatto shipmate was so near them, heard a sudden shout of ‘Ye hip, o hoy!’ turning to the challenge, each stood transfixt, motionless, and dumb—for it could be nothing short of Lucifer himself, by whose baleful potency so many frightful and unaccountable wonders had been raised. It was some moments before they recovered their wonted firmness, and even then, it was not without some difficulty they could be induced to believe the object whom their apprehensions had magnified into His Satanic Majesty was neither more nor less than their own good - natured shipmate."