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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 41


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Fiji comprises all those islands lying between the latitudes of 16° and 21° S., and the longitudes of 176° E. and 178° W., containing what Tasman named "Prince William's Islands" and "Heeniskirk's Shoals." The number of islands in the group is 225; and they extend over 40,000 square miles of the South Pacific Ocean. Of those islands, 80 are said to come under the name of inhabited islands, and the people are, to a considerable extent, christianised. The chief part is about 1175 miles north of Auckland (New Zealand), 1700 miles north-east of Sydney (New South Wales), and 725 east of New Caledonia. The Friendly Islands, or Tongan group, are nearly 500 miles north-east from Fiji, and the Navigators' Islands are about 000 miles to the south-east. Rotumah, a small but valuable cocoanut island, is only 200 miles from Levuka.

These islands were first discovered by Abel Jansen Tasman in 1643. After this they continued unvisited until Cook named the island he touched at "Turtle Island." Captain Bligh, of the ill-fated "Bounty," passed through the group in 1789, when cast adrift in the launch; and again in 1792, when in command of the "Providence." In 1796 the "Duff," following the same course as Tasman, was nearly lost on the reef off Tanviuni; and about the year 1800 Fiji began to be regularly visited by traders for sandalwood to burn before Chinese idols, or "bêche-de-mer" to gratify Chinese epicures. The first movement for the cession of Fiji to Great Britain occurred in 1858, but the cession was not concluded and ratified till 10th October, 1874. Fiji is now a Crown colony. Sir Arthur Gordon was the first Governor, and High Commissioner of Polynesia, but has just been removed to New Zealand.

Some of the islands exhibit coralline, and others volcanic formation. Much of the scenery is very attractive. Vanua Levu (the great land) is more than 100 miles long, having an average breadth of 25 miles. This island—and especially the western side—is notable as being the only part of Fiji in which sandalwood can be obtained to any extent. Na Viti Levu (the great Fiji) is 90 miles from east to west, and 50 from north to south. The landscape and geological character of the principal islands vary: consisting of level ground, edged by sandstone cliffs 500 feet high; mountains 4000 and 5000 feet high, black and sterile; narrow vales, beyond which rise hills whose wooded tops are in fine contrast with the bold, bare front at the base. Those parts which have been formed by volcanic agency possess indications of craters; but no lava in a stream having been found, the construction of the group, assuming it to have been first volcanic and then coralline, must have been very remote. Volcanic action, however, still prevails in the shape of earthquakes. In Ngau there is enough volcanic heat to produce warm and boiling .springs. The high peaks and needles on the large islands are mostly basaltic. The soil is in some places gravelly and barren; occasionally a stratum of reddish clay and sandstone is found, but a dark red or yellowish loam is most common. This is often deep and very rich, containing, as it does, much decayed vegetable matter. Portions of the large flats, covered with rank grass, treacherously hiding the soft, adhesive mud beneath, would baffle the skill of the British husbandman, although much prized by the natives, who find in them just the soil and moisture needed for the cultivation of their highly-esteemed vegetable food, the "taro." Fiji and its neighbourhood so abound with shore reefs, sea or barrier reefs, beds, patches, or knolls of reef, with sunken rock and sandbanks, as to make it an ocean labyrinth of unusual intricacy, and difficult of navigation.

The population has been estimated at from 100,000 to 300,000; half of the latter number is considered by the best authorities to be nearer the truth. The European population up to 1873 was estimated at about 3000.

Almost any quantity of the richest land can be purchased from the Government on reasonable terms, the upset price for first-class land being £1 per acre, second-class 15s. per acre, and third-class 10s. per acre. The titles to the land are Crown grants, indefeasible and fee-simple; and as all titles are registered, there is no necessity to employ a solicitor. The survey fees for country land are £4 4s. per mile for flat land, and £5 5s. for hilly and other land, The grant fees are—under 300 acres, £3 3s.; under 500 acres, £4 4s.; under 1000 acres, £5 5s. and over 1000 acres, £8 8s.

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The revenue of the colony for the year 1878 amounted to £61,021 2s. 8d., and the expenditure to £65,266 10s. 9d. The total value of the imports and exports for 1878 was £329,573 3s. 1d.

The following list of products is given in the Fijian Directory for 1879:—The chief articles for which the islands will become famous are—sugar, coffee, cotton, copra, cocoa, tea, tobacco, cinchona, arrowroot, cocoanuts, rice, bêche-de-mer, pearl shell, candlenuts, Indian corn, tapioca, clove, cinnamon, ginger, nutmegs, allspice, pepper, camphor, vanilla, coir, &c., besides materials for paper-making. All kinds of tropical fruits thrive remarkably well; and there are also in Fiji many useful and valuable timbers, notably visi, asi, damami, dakua, sala-sala, a kind of kauri, dati, vai-vai, &c. Two first prizes were obtained for samples of Fiji-grown cotton at Philadelphia, and three gold medals at the Paris Exhibition. The fall in prices since 1872 has limited the cultivation. However, as it bears two crops a year, and as all expenses, including cost of production, freight, commission, and insurance, do not exceed one shilling a pound, a planter ought, if the weather is line enough to enable him to gather two full crops, to make a very considerable profit from 200 lb. per acre. There are as yet only five small sugar mills at work in Fiji, and only one vacuum pan; the sugar, however, made with this fetches a larger price in Melbourne than Mauritius sugars. There are no fixed seasons at present for crushing, but mills work the whole year round, and obtain a high density; and with a powerful mill a ton of sugar can be obtained from ten to twelve tons of cane. Canes rattoon here for many years, and the first rattoon crop is better than the maiden one; the latter being fit to cut at fifteen months, the former at eleven months old. Magnificent sugar land, already cleared and a portion of it planted, can be bought from settlers at about £5 an acre; uncleared land, at from £2 10s. to £3 an acre. An acre ought to bear, if properly cultivated, about forty tons of cane per annum, and 10s. per ton is the average price which the mills will pay for same; the expenses ought not to exceed £5 an acre, and £15 an acre profit should j therefore be made. A mill capable of making about five tons of sugar in a day of ten hours j would cost upwards of £12,000 to get into working order; and by working overtime, and crushing j all the year round, the net profits of such a mill would, at present prices, be not less than £12,000, or 100 per cent. Many settlers are embarking in coffee-growing. The first crop from trees barely two years old is being just gathered, and a large quantity has been sold for export to Sydney for £112 per ton. The cost of bringing one hundred acres of uncleared land into bearing will be about £1500, extended over a period of three years, during which time there will be no returns; but after that time has passed, eight hundredweight to the acre ought to be gathered for twenty-five or thirty years. If Fiji coffee only fetched three-fourths of the price of the Ceylon coffee, the gross proceeds from one hundred acres would be between £3500 and £4000, and after deducting every possible charge there would remain between £2500 and £3000 a-year clear profit. Many hundreds of acres are now being planted, and all look remarkably well. The appearance of the coffee bushes thereon has convinced visitors from Ceylon that the country is eminently suitable for their growth. As leaf disease is causing the Ceylon planters to look out for a new country, many of them have already taken up their abode amongst us, and numbers of others will follow. The rainfall and temperature in many districts of Fiji are exactly suitable for coffee-growing. Large quantities of very fine tobacco are being grown; but ignorance of the manner in which to cure it, militates against its taking a high place in the market. Until experienced men are introduced from America or the West Indies, and a fair trial given to it, it would be unwise to form an opinion on the subject of its produce in money value. Cocoa, tea, and cinchona are merely in an experimental state as yet. Arrowroot and tapioca grow exceedingly well; the former is a weed in some parts of Fiji, and fetches 4d. per lb. in Sydney. The Bahama variety introduced here has brought 10d. per lb. at London auction sales. Copra—i.e., the dried kernel of the cocoanut—is the chief article of export at present. Although the trees take from five to seven years before they are in full bearing, it is one of the most sure, as also the most profitable, industries. Copra is now fetching in Fiji £14 a ton, and one settler made last year, with only six foreign labourers, 36 tons. An acre planted up about 25 feet apart ought to yield one ton of copra per annum; and when the trees are sufficiently grown to be out of the reach of cattle, they bear better where cattle graze underneath. The fibre of the husk is also valuable, and with the most improved machinery will add handsomely to the value of a cocoanut plantation. Ginger, nutmeg, and every other tropical product will, it is believed, thrive remarkably well in Fiji. The area of products at present grown in Fiji consists as nearly as possible of the following, but it will soon be largely increased:—
Cocoanut 39 settlers have planted 5,876 acres.
Corn 31 settlers have planted 535 acres.
Cotton 14 settlers have planted 2,620 acres.
Sugar-cane 21 settlers have planted 1,480 acres.
Coffee 19 settlers have planted 954 acres.
Tobacco 8 settlers have planted 111 acres.
Arrowroot 3 settlers have planted 252 acres.
Or, 135 settlers have planted 12,828 acres.
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The origin of the inhabitants of Fiji is involved in considerable obscurity. There are no traditions or historical records to serve as a guide in the matter; and there is no hint or record of any early immigration. The popular belief among the natives is that they never occupied any other country than that in which they now dwell. But recently certain physical indications seem to connect them with Asia.

The warlike character of the Fijians of recent years did not exist in Captain Cook's time, but is supposed to have been imbibed from Tongan intercourse. Aggression made them warlike. Polygamy exists, and infanticide, which proceeds from it. There are professional child-slayers of children born and unborn. The sick, infirm, and aged parents used to be buried alive; and the rites of cannibalism were unsurpassed. Even King Cakobau, Christian as he is, has partaken of human flesh. And yet the Fijians possess many good traits of character.

Pigs have abounded since the islands were discovered. Various English animals have been introduced, which thrive well, except sheep. Fish is abundant, and whales are numerous. Birds are not plentiful. Insects abound, of which the butterflies are very beautiful. Reptiles are numerous, the lizard taking the lead.

Mr. Williams, American consul, bought a mountain for its rich veins of copper ore. After his death some specimens were found among his effects which proved to be malachite, closely resembling the Australian, and, next to that of the Ural, considered the best. Nothing has been done to work those mines. Ore of antimony also occurs in large veins, in the side of a hill ten miles from Namosi, and at a place called Umbi. Salt is an important production.

A leading article of traffic is the "bêche-de-mer." This is simply a mollusc, very much like a large black snail or slug, with horns or puckles all over it. They get smaller in drying, looking like bits of half-baked clay, varying from ten inches to a foot in length. The Chinese are passionately fond of them, making them into a thick rich soup. Amongst the miscellaneous productions of Fiji are a great variety of beautiful shells.

The manufactured productions of the Fijians are numerous, and by no means contemptible. They have several useful and ornamental manufactures in pottery, and mould many tasteful and serviceable articles, some of which they glaze and vary in colour. They take their models from flowers, leaves, and birds; and the women are the chief manufacturers.

The masi, or native gannent, is made from the bark of the malo, which, after being softened by immersion in water in the manner of flax, is beaten out, and several strips joined together. After being stretched to the desired size, these are carefully dyed, or, more correctly speaking, painted. The "masi" formerly constituted the principal clothing and covering of the islanders, and is in the form of a band around the waist, reaching nearly to the knee.

Mat-making is a source of wealth and occupation, mats being used for many purposes, such as covering walls and floors, and as sails, and they are largely exported to other islands. There are also "nursing" and sleeping mats; and those used as floor coverings are frequently from 25 to 30 feet square, and painted in grotesque patterns. Hand-screens, fans, and ornaments for the neck, arms, and ears, are also manufactured. A great trade is done with the Tahitians and Sandwich Islanders in scarlet feathers, which, in those islands, are a requisite portion of the female toilet, and in Fiji are abundantly furnished by the native parrots. Baskets and nets form also items of industrial produce.