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Crusoes of Sunday Island

CHAPTER TWO — Heading South

Heading South

When bell told his wife next day he had decided to settle on Sunday Island, she accepted his decision without protest or argument. She knew that nothing she might have said would have made any difference. But knowing the limitations of Apia's food supply, she asked at once what provision he was making with regard to the necessary stores.

"McKenzie tells me he has plenty of stuff on board the Norval, everything we are likely to want. He will be back in three months, he says, so we will order our main supplies from Auckland. We'll get along all right until they arrive. I saw Hoffner this morning. He will pay cash for the hotel, and I'll fix up our passages this afternoon. You can get ahead with your packing right-away."

So Mrs. Bell got ahead with her packing. Whatever her thoughts may have been, she kept them to herself. All her married life she had been on the move, accompanying her husband on one venture after another. A woman of calm, peace-loving disposition, she possessed an inner strength of spirit born of an implicit trust in God which had brought her through many a crisis in her life with this restless, iron-willed despot, who ruled his family with all the autocracy of an old-time chieftain laying down the law to an awed and submissive clan.

Truth to tell, she was glad enough to be leaving Apia. Hotel life in the little Samoan seaport had not been to her liking, and it was with a sense of relief that she finally embarked on the Norval with her children. Her most prized material possessions were packed carefully in the page 17 little carpet bag she had bought in London for her voyage across the world a few years before she had met and married Tom Bell. In it she had placed the Bible without which she never travelled, a much-worn volume of Shakespeare, some private papers and a sharp pair of scissors with which to keep her husband's whiskers and children's hair in order.

Packed securely in a case which was carried into her cabin were a set of table silver and a dinner service of finest china, hand-painted with roses, with daintily-tied bows of china in place of dish-handles. The set had come to her with a tragic history. She had bought it for a trifling sum from a Maori woman who had brought it to her home soon after the quelling of the Hau Hau rebellion during the Maori War in the 'sixties. During the pillage and burning of isolated pakeha (English) settlements and murder of pioneer settlers, many fine homes had been sacked by the rebels. Valuable family treasures and household possessions were soon being furtively hawked around the countryside by Maoris willing to accept a few shillings for articles worth many pounds.

When notable visitors from the outside world had come to spend a few days in Tom Bell's Apia Hotel, the china and silver were always set on tables laid with glossy linen tablecloths, creating an effect which astonished and delighted the guests.

Tom Bell brought into their cabin his own three most cherished possessions, a fine old violin which he played with the skill of a master, together with a boxful of extra strings, a great pile of music, and a canvas bag filled with money from the sale of his hotel, a settlement in cash.

With a feeling of release as well as relief, Mrs. Bell went up on deck the morning after leaving Apia. She had no idea as to what might lie ahead, but she had a suspicion that this promised island Eden would contain its full quota of hidden serpents. She was by no means inclined to share her husband's ready acceptance of Chris Johnston's

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glamorous picture of Sunday Island. To be Queen of the Kermadecs certainly did not come within the scope of her modest earthly ambitions, which were centred solely on the welfare of her husband and of her six young children.

One thing she knew beyond all doubt, however, was that she herself was in for a hard time! This did not trouble her. She had faced hard times before, and was no stranger to loneliness and the ups-and-downs of a roving life. Strange indeed, she reflected, had been the path life had laid down for her since she had left London after an unhappy girlhood, and come to the little town of Napier, capital of Hawke's Bay, soon after the outbreak of the Maori War. Here she had met and married Thomas Bell, who had been fighting with the British troops.

It was during the confused and dangerous period of the Hau Hau uprising that Bell had suffered a serious setback, the burning of his flax mill at Nuhaka, in Hawke's Bay. This mill was one of the first in New Zealand, and the loss of his entire stock of fine dressed flax before he could ship any of it overseas so discouraged him that he presently gave up all idea of industrial pioneering and decided to go in for hotel-keeping.

After one or two more or less successful ventures, he made up his mind to buy a hotel at Ohiwa, a little seaside settlement in the Bay of Plenty. Thinking it might be a good idea to take his wife to see the place before settling the matter, he arranged for her to make the long trip with him from their home in Kaitaratah, a village not far from Gisborne, Hawke's Bay.

Leaving her children in the care of kindly neighbours, Frederica Bell, who had never sat a horse before, started out on an epic ride through some of the wildest, roughest country in New Zealand. Across one high mountain range after another, through forest-clad ravines, over precipitous Maori tracks so narrow that it was necessary always to ride single file, Tom Bell and his wife made their way page 19 through the Motu Gorge by a route famed even in those days for its beauty and feared for its perils. Frederica Bell was actually the first white woman ever to make the forbidding journey. Week after week she and her husband pressed on, sleeping often beneath the stars or in some wayside Maori whare (hut).

At last the long ride came to an end. Bell bought the hotel, but a few years later, decided he had had enough of New Zealand life. A trading station in the Pacific, he considered, would be better suited to a man of his energy and ambition.

To his bitter disappointment, he found that Germany had already placed her traders in every important island group in the Pacific, from the Carolines far westward to New Guinea and New Britain.

And so at last he had drifted with his family to Western Samoa, then under joint British, American and German control, where ownership of the Samoa Hotel in Apia had been the best he could achieve. A year of that had been enough for him, and a year too long for his wife. Still a Londoner at heart, she did not understand, nor like, the Samoans, nor did she feel happy in the come-day, go-day, God-send-Sunday atmosphere of this lax, lush little tropical seaport.

. As she sat hour by hour in a shady nook on the deck of the Norval and nursed her latest baby, one-year-old Jackie, she felt very glad her days in Samoa were over. The wind remained fair, the weather perfect. Lulled by the gentle movement of the ship, and the song of the sea-breeze in the sails, she relaxed as she had not done for many a long day, stretched her bare feet to a sun which no longer blazed in tropical heat, and smoked a well-seasoned clay pipe. Strangers were usually taken aback at the sight of this gentle-faced woman puffing away like a Maori wahine (woman), but she had picked up the habit while living among them during the wandering years, and had fallen under its persuasive spell.

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The children were enjoying the trip to the full. They had quickly made friends with the only other passenger, Allan Greer, a young English writer who was gathering material for a book on Pacific travel, and remained glued day by day to his cheerful and accommodating side.

Tom Bell smoked and chatted with the captain, always staring southward, already making plans for the establishment of his kingdom.

All his life Tom Bell had followed paths of his own choosing. A born wanderer, he had inherited more than a dash of the spirit of his forbears, the redoubtable Bells of the Border, noted both for their rugged individuality and for their turbulent raids on their neighbours' flocks and cattle in an age tougher and more lawless than his own.

Grandson of the Rev. Thomas Bell, vicar of Ackworth, Nottingley, and only son of Henry Bell, a Birmingham chemist and his well-born and accomplished wife, Tom Bell had spent most of his boyhood years at boarding school, from which he had run away several times by the time he reached the age of sixteen. His final escapade landed him on board a merchant vessel in Liverpool, where, on the point of her departure for Australia, he was at last located by a deeply worried father. There was only one thing left for Mr. Bell to do, to arrange for the lad to make the voyage as apprentice.

Tom's exemplary conduct won him the favour of the captain, and an enjoyable association ended only when he swam ashore one night from the ship while at anchor in Port Phillip, Melbourne. He made his way as quickly as possible to the Bendigo and Ballarat gold fields, won a fortune, lost it, and presently crossed the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where the gold-fever led him to Otago's famous Gabriel's Gully rush.

Later on, after a period of sheep-farming in the Southern Lakes district, he moved up to the North Island, sent for his parents, with whom he had always kept in touch, and page 21 settled in Napier, chief town of Hawke's Bay. Here Henry Bell founded the Napier Hospital and acted as medical superintendent for nine years. His wife, a trained nurse before her marriage, became the hospital's first matron.

With their son's marriage and subsequent wanderings after the Maori War, the family tie was broken, and the opening chapters written in the story of Tom and Frederica's long and adventurous life together.

It was not surprising that after many years of restless striving, Thomas Bell, looking southward from the deck of the Norval, should have welcomed the closing of a chapter, fruitless and frustrating, which had brought him no nearer the goal of a career of his own choosing.

Of Sunday Island, soon to be his future home, he knew little more than Johnston had told him. It is possible that had he known more of the island's sinister history, even he might have quailed at the thought of taking his wife and young family to live in such an ill-starred place.

The Kermadecs consist of four groups of small islands, all volcanic, with rock-bound coasts and deeply indented bays open to the fury of Pacific storms. Sunday Island, largest and only habitable island of the group, seven-by-four miles of precipitous cliffs and densely forested mountain sides, was discovered by the roving French explorer D'Entrecasteaux in 1793, and named by him Raoul Island, after his quartermaster. Three years later the British ship Britannia sighted the island, sent a party ashore, and under the impression that he was the original discoverer the captain gave it the name of Sunday Island in commemoration of the day of landing. It was by this name that the island was known' for nearly 140 years until it came under control of the New Zealand Government's Civil Aviation Administration in 1938, since when it has been known as Raoul Island.

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After the visit of the Britannia, Sunday Island disappeared from records of Pacific history for thirty years, although frequently visited by the whalers and island traders of the day. It is said to have been a niche in the cliffs of Denham Bay that provided the South Pacific with its first ocean post office. Here the sea-rovers picked up mail from England and other countries left by vessels ploughing south perhaps a year previously; here in the same place they left their own letters to be collected by ships northward bound.

Between the years 1837 and 1854, several parties of settlers established themselves with their wives and families in what was later to be called Denham Bay, which, despite its treacherous shores and dangerous surf, seems to have been generally accepted as the island's best landing place. This was no doubt because fresh water was always obtainable there from deep pools in a swamp at the head of the beach, usually spoken of as the lagoon. The first settlers built comfortable huts, grew supplies of vegetables for barter with the whalers, and lived contentedly enough with little sickness and few deaths, until driven away by loneliness, earthquakes, and occasional outbreaks of volcanic activity in the mountains.

In 1854 the Kermadecs were placed permanently on the map of the South Pacific by Captain H. M. Denham, who arrived in H.M.S. Herald on July 2 to complete a survey. He anchored in the wide bay, to which he later gave his own name, in the depth of winter. Tragedy and misfortune shadowed his visit from the outset. Within a few days of his arrival, his son Fleetwood James, a lad sixteen years old, died aboard the Herald from a tropical fever. He was buried near the beach at the head of Denham Bay, where there were a number of the grass-grown graves of former settiers.

The Herald brought wild winter weather with her, and during the month she was engaged on the survey had to slip anchor every few days to avoid being driven page 23 ashore by heavy winds and high seas. Despite the bad weather, Captain Denham persevered with his job, which he completed with outstanding skill and accuracy. When at last he re-embarked, the ship was preparing to make for the open sea in the teeth of a gale when she lost both flukes of her anchor. Only by fine seamanship was she saved from being driven on to the surf-swept rocks.

At the time of Captain Denham's visit, an American named Halstead was living in Denham Bay with two Samoan wives, a number of children and a kanaka servant. During the years that followed, several other parties of pioneers arrived, some being satisfied with very brief visits, others remaining longer.

Grimmest of all episodes in the shadowed history of Sunday Island was the dumping in Denham Bay of a party of plague-stricken Tokelau Islanders in 1860. These unfortunate kanakas had been recruited by a black-birding, or slave-trading, schooner as labour for the Peruvian silver plantations and were being shipped to Callao for sale under the cruel and iniquitous system then in operation.

Pestilence broke out in the crowded, insanitary ship. Denied entry to every port, the captain callously dumped the victims ashore in Denham Bay and left them there to die. The settlers tended them as humanely as possible, with the inevitable result that a number of them contracted the disease, died, and were buried hurriedly in rough mass-graves at the head of the Bay. Some time later the survivors were taken off by a passing whaler which put into the bay in response to urgent signals.

Ten years later Chris Johnston and a companion arrived in the Bay with their wives and families, built new huts and established gardens. But the whaling days were nearing their end, and the number of callers began to lessen. The party had not been long on the island when the worst outbreak of volcanic activity for many years took place in the crater of the volcano in the centre of page 24 the island. The panic-stricken settlers fled to the beach for safety, and remained there, hoisting signals of distress, until the earth tremors ceased. A passing ship, observing from far out at sea dense clouds of steam rising from fissures in the Denham Bay cliffs, changed course to investigate, and took the terrified inhabitants away.

Once again the island was deserted. It remained a no man's land for seven or eight years. The only sounds which broke the silence were the cries of migrant birds as they returned season by season, the unceasing thunder of surf, and the tumult of the great winter winds that came roaring down the mountains. Nature quickly took the place back to herself. Some unmarked graves half buried in undergrowth, a forlorn huddle of derelict huts, a few overgrown patches of gardens and one old orange tree were all that remained to show that man had ever been daring, or foolhardy, enough to attempt to conquer this implacable island.

This, then, was the chequered history of the dream-isle to which Thomas Bell was now making his way with his wife and six young children.

The Bell children, like their parents, had settled down happily to shipboard life and were openly wishing it would go on for ever. They ran around barefoot all day, and slept on deck beneath the stars at night. Being orderly, obedient children they made friends with the sailors and particularly with the good-natured cook. But the only other passenger, Allan Greer, was the bright particular star of their young lives in this wonderful voyage. Good-natured, fond of children, he spent hours with the young Bells and found them surprisingly good company.

The eldest girl, eleven-year-old Hettie, afforded him much secret amusement with the little airs of superiority she affected in order to impress upon the younger children page 25 the grown-upness of eleven as compared with the insignificance of nine-and-under.

Both she and her sister Bess, who was nine, were strong, well-formed girls. Hettie was not tall, but already of notably powerful build, like her father, who in his younger days had been counted the most powerful man in Hawke's Bay. Bess was tall, long-limbed and possessed of a childish dignity and a slight aloofness of manner that at times rather nonplussed the flamboyant Hettie. Both girls had magnificent heads of hair, long, strong and of a tawny blonde colour that set off their blue eyes and sun-tanned faces. They wore their hair in plaits that came down to their waists.

Observing them closely day by day, young Greer came to the conclusion that he had never before come in contact with a pair of girls so utterly unsophisticated, yet so quaintly self-confident and assured in bearing, as these two young Bells.

But his favourite was Mary, a quiet little girl of seven who had known overmuch childhood suffering and illness. The two small boys, five-year-old Tom, and Harry, just turned three, followed Greer like twin shadows, saying little but watching him with hero-worshipping eyes.

They sat cross-legged at his feet one morning towards the end of the voyage, listening raptly to a fairy story he was reading aloud. Mary, as usual, leaned against his shoulder and breathed adoringly down his neck. Hettie and Bess swung their legs from a pile of rope opposite the one on which Greer was sitting.

The two older girls were not greatly impressed with Hans Andersen and his fairy folk, their young lives having been spent in an atmosphere of stern reality not usually associated with childhood.

"Well, what kind of stories do you like?" asked Allan, reading their non-committal silence aright. "You tell me and I'll send you some books when I get to New Zealand, if you'll promise to write and tell me how you like them."page 26"It wouldn't be any use sending us books," remarked Hettie casually. "We can't read."

"And we can't write either," supplemented Bess.

"Can't read or write!" exclaimed Greer. "But haven't you ever had any books at home; children's books you could have learned from?"

" No, we haven't got any books at all," Bess told him.

"We have so too," contradicted Hetty. "We have a Bible and a Shakespeare, and Mother and Father read to us, but we don't like Shakespeare much. He talks funny."

"Didn't you ever go to school?"

"No, there wasn't a school where we came from in New Zealand. There had been one for the Maoris, but the old man went blind and they couldn't get another teacher," replied Hettie, feeling rather important.

"Well, what did you do all the time? Play with your dolls?"

"We've never had any dolls," said Bess. "We've never had anything to play with at all. There were no shops where we lived before we went to Samoa. We just played games, and then at Apia we went swimming every day and had fun on the beach."

"When we get to Sunday Island, our father says we've got to be tough," declared Hettie. "He's going to give Bess and me a knife each, and we're going to help him hunt goats. Mr. Johnston said the island was full of them. I expect we'll kill hundreds!"

"Won't that be fun!" said Allan grimly. "Now, who'd like a chocolate biscuit?" He produced the tin which had been the highlight of every deck session, and the children helped themselves decorously to one apiece.

"I wish I could come with you," he went on, "and write it all in my book when I get back to England."

"When you write about me, will you be sure and remember to put me in by my proper name?" directed Hettie with an air of importance. "It's not 'Hettie' at all.

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That's just a nickname. I want you to put in 'Miss Henrietta Bell Esquire'."

" 'Esquire?' Where on earth did you get hold of that?" asked Greer, hiding a smile.

"It was on a letter-envelope which came to my grandpa. He read it to me, and he said it meant a person of some importance."

"Ha ha!" Bess broke into derisive laughter. She often enjoyed a poke at her elder sister. "Henrietta, Henri-ett-aa!" she chanted mischievously. "Henri-etta Banana!"

Hettie, deeply affronted, retaliated wickedly:

"Bessie Bell Will go to …"

"Here, that's enough of that!" interrupted Allan, hastily revising his idea that these were the most amiable children in the world. "Have another biscuit."

But Mary's mind was on something else. "Pleeth, I would like you to put me in your book too, but don't put in 'esquire'," she whispered, looking up at her friend with an anxious little smile. "You won't leave me out, will you?"

"No, I'll put you in, chocolate biscuit and all!" and he popped another into her mouth.

The cook suddenly jerked up from the galley like a jack-in-the-box and banged a tin tray. They all jumped down from their rope-piles and went to lunch.

"It was such fun!" Hettie told her mother that afternoon. "We told him all about hunting the goats and swimming in Apia. He's going to put us all in a book!" Hettie's blue eyes shone with happiness.

It was the last morning's fun they were to have for many a long day.

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