Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 4


Coupang—Sale of the Boats—Description of the Town—Its Trade—Husbandry—Government—and Inhabitants—Departure from Coupang—"Amity" nearly wrecked—Arrival at Raffles Bay

I have already mentioned that we were kindly received by the Resident of Coupang. He was in very low spirits, not only on account of having lately been bereft of his wife; but also from a more recent affliction he had experienced, by the death of his pastor, friend, and counsellor, the Rev. Mr. Le Brun, who had unexpectedly fallen a victim to an insidious fever a few days before our arrival.

Under the influence of these depressing events, the Resident lived quite retired: he expressed to me his regret that I had not arrived a little earlier, as he thought the assistance of a British surgeon might have saved the life of his much-valued friend, who had not received the advantage of medical attendance during his illness, in consequence of the only surgeon, in whom dependence could be placed, having been, a short time previously, carried off by an attack of a similar disease.

The day after our arrival, we received a polite invitation to dine with Mr. Teilmann, Secretary to Government, who had invited all the Europeans, of any note in port, to meet us. At the time appointed (3 P.M.), Captain Young, Messrs. Radford, Underwood, Owen, and myself, repaired to his hospitable abode, where we found a considerable number already assembled, forming a large circle in the cool and spacious verandah, each individual occupying an easy arm-chair, smoking cigars, and puffing care away.

After our introduction, which was performed with much formality, we were invited to take a cigar, and a glass of wine or spirits before dinner. This appears to be a common custom here, as the attendants, without being called, waited on us, one with cigars, another with a lighted stick, and a third with wine, spirits, and water. The company being all arrived, dinner was announced, and after a little ceremony, we were all comfortably seated at table, on which was tastefully spread an abundance of choice and well-cooked viands, whose savoury odour might tempt the most fastidious appetite;—it is therefore not to be wondered at, that our eyes wandered over the various dishes with more than epicurean delight.

Fish of several kinds,—soups, including the birds'-nest and trepang, together with many other equally rich items, having been partaken of,—our worthy host called out with a loud voice "Bo ma kanna!" which, being interpreted, signifies "Bring dinner." To us, who had lately fared so scantily, it seemed strange, and somewhat absurd, that such rich and delicious food, of which several had so liberally partaken, should not even be considered as a part of dinner. We were no less astonished to find, in this semi-barbarous place, people who had skill to prepare, and taste to enjoy, dainties well deserving the admiration of the most refined apician connoisseurs.

The attendants, also, who were numerous, gave an additional zest to the entertainment, by performing their office with promptitude and good will. In such circumstances, it was difficult to act in conformity with the precept of Celsus[1]; but as the one part of it had been broken from necessity, it was deemed fair and just on our part to break the other from choice, and carpere diem while it was in our power.

After dinner, the bottle circulated freely, and several who had until now been very silent, began to show symptoms of the Cacoethes loquendi; but as the conversation was carried on either in Dutch or Malayese, I could not derive much advantage from it. Having consumed no inconsiderable quantity of well-cooled claret, we retired from table, and enjoyed our coffee under the verandah; after which, some took leave,—others remained to smoke cigars, and drink brandy and water.

In the mean time, the interests of the sailors, who were comfortably lodged in Fort Concordia, were not forgotten; but it was not long before they began to make complaints of the roguery of the person who had contracted to supply them with provisions. On inquiry, there did not appear any just cause of complaint, and the contractor (a native dealer) was so annoyed by their groundless accusation, that he declined having anything more to do with them; when the Serjeant of the Fort, an Amboynese, undertook the office of purveyor.

There being no notary public, nor, indeed, anything in the shape of a lawyer in Coupang, Captain Young could not get a protest drawn up according to legal form; but, deeming it prudent to make some public statement, relative to the circumstances attending the loss of the vessel, as early as possible, he did so in a clear and concise manner, and the Secretary lent his assistance to give it some formality.

The two boats were then advertised to be sold by auction, for the benefit of the underwriters. The long-boat, if it had been in good condition, and sound, would have sold well, as it was of a convenient size and form to trade along the coast. Before the sale, however, a Chinese carpenter was sent to inspect the boats, who soon discovered the defective worm-eaten state of the long boat; and, in consequence, at the sale it only brought 175 dollars, while the skiff, being in a sound state, sold for 180. The first was purchased by the Collector of Customs, a son of the Resident; and the other by Mr. Bechade, a French merchant, whose polite and friendly attention to us will be long and gratefully remembered.

From the shortness of my visit, and the peculiar circumstances attending it, I could not obtain much information respecting the Island of Timor, which, from its geographical position and natural productions, is deserving of far greater notice than it has yet received. The Dutch, however, have, it would appear, viewed it as of small consideration, in comparison with their other oriental insular possessions. Yet, they have, with characteristic prudence, taken care that its various capabilities should be kept in the shade, lest their trading rivals might be tempted to break the tenth commandment.

Although, from the above-mentioned causes, I have little information to communicate, yet the following cursory observations relative to Coupang may not be deemed altogether unimportant.

This town, the principal settlement of the Dutch, is situated on the south side of a capacious bay, near the western extremity of the island; where vessels of any burden may anchor in safety, excepting when the N.W. monsoon blows; in which season they usually find convenient shelter-under the lee of a small adjacent island named Pulo Semao.

The view of the town from the anchorage does not impress the stranger with a very favourable idea of the industry or enterprise of its inhabitants;—on the left bank of a small rapid river is a madreporic rock of some elevation, whereon is built Fort Concordia, which commands the town, and may thereby keep it, and the various aboriginal tribes, in awe; but being completely commanded by more elevated ground to the westward, it could not be of much avail in repelling the hostile attacks of a disciplined force. To the eastward of the fort, on which the Dutch flag waves, a few red roofs of houses may be perceived here and there, sprinkled among the trees. To the westward of the fort, at a little distance, may be observed a considerable number of fishermen's huts, in a little cove, shaded by the cocoa and palmyra palms. On approaching nearer to the town, its aspect improves a little. The residence of Mr. Bechade,—a Chinese temple, and some other pretty fair buildings, tend to embellish the Marina, where a commodious inn, now nearly completed, will be of much advantage to strangers.

The principal street, parallel with the right bank of the river, contains some good houses, a few of which are in repair, but by far the greater part are more or less dilapidated. Here are situated the Church, and the habitations of the Resident, the Secretary, and others connected with Government. Rows of trees on each side of the street, being without their usual attendants, canals, afford an agreeable shade, without being detrimental to health.

The other streets, if they deserve the name, are narrow and crooked, and the houses formed chiefly of bamboo. The town is well supplied with water from the river, which is fresh at a very little distance from its mouth. The principal part of the town is on the right bank, but there is a considerable number of houses on the left bank also, and a communication exists by means of a bamboo bridge.

The river rises from the mountains to the southward, at no great distance from the bay. Its banks for several miles are cultivated; and, viewed from the rising ground behind the town, they have a very picturesque appearance. The steep shelving sides, in which rice is chiefly grown, are formed into terraces, and well irrigated. At the bottom of the glen (as it may be called), the cocoa, the palmyra, the banana, the bead-fruit, the orange, and the lemon tree, flourish luxuriantly, and diffuse an air of happiness and plenty around the peaceful-looking habitations, which are strewed pretty thickly on both sides of the river.

It may appear almost incredible, that notwithstanding the length of time (upwards of 200 years) this place has been colonised, there is not a carriage road of any description, excepting one along the sea-shore, about a mile in length, leading to the villas of the Resident and Secretary. There are several bridle paths, which, not having received the smallest assistance from art, are very indifferent, and to those unaccustomed to them, exceeding irksome and fatiguing. During my short excursions into the country, I could not help reflecting, how different it would have appeared, had it been a tithe of the time under British sway.

As Coupang has lately been made a free port, it is probable that its prosperity may increase; and as it is convenient for vessels employed in the whale fishery to refit and refresh, I have no doubt they will now make it a frequent rendezvous. A considerable trade is carried on, chiefly in sandal-wood and bees-wax, which meet a ready sale in the Chinese market. Horses, which are of a small breed, but exceedingly hardy, form an article of export, principally to the Isle of France. They are most readily procured by vessels going along the coast, in exchange for powder and muskets;—the importation of these articles being prohibited at Coupang.

The British settlements on the north coast of New Holland are supplied from this place with buffaloes, sheep, and occasionally with other articles; and, as it was imagined that a commercial intercourse might be established, Mr. Bechade, who had entered into a contract to supply the settlement with fresh provisions, purchased a vessel to trade between Timor and Melville Island.

The chief mode of agriculture practised here is highly curious. To prepare a field for the reception of rice, maize, or wheat, a herd of buffaloes are turned into it, and chased to and fro, until the ground is imagined to be sufficiently wrought; and notwithstanding this slovenly system of husbandry, the fertile earth yields an abundant return.

Coupang, and the subordinate settlements along the coast, with the adjacent islands of Bottee and Semao, are governed by a Resident, (under the control of the Governor of Java,) who is also commander of the troops, judge, jury, magistrate, and, in short, possesses power almost absolute. The present Resident, however, who has held the appointment for a long time, exercises his authority with so much mildness, that the inhabitants have but little reason to complain.

Fort Concordia is garrisoned by a handful of Amboynese troops, who have a very soldier-like appearance; their athletic forms, and healthy aspects, indicating them to be far better adapted for service in this climate, than the miserable squalid-looking troops from Batavia, who are sent here in charge of prisoners[2]. Such troops, however, are not allowed to remain long here, being, it is supposed from motives of jealousy, sent back to Batavia by the first opportunity.

The Resident has a salary of about 600l. a year; it is hinted, however, that his salary forms only a small part of his income, but I have no doubt that this is only mercantile scandal. He informed me, that he was about to undertake an expedition into the interior, in search of gold mines, with Mr. Macleod, a Dutch mineralogist sent from Batavia for that purpose; and, in order to repel any hostile attacks of the fierce mountaineers, he would take a cortége of at least 1000 men. I was astonished at his being able to maintain so large a number; but, on inquiry, I learned that such an armament could be put in motion without any expense to the Dutch Government, each Rajah, under the protection of its flag, being required to furnish his quota, not only of men, but also of provisions, and other necessaries for their maintenance during the expedition.

The inhabitants of Coupang are a very heterogeneous mass, being composed,—1st, of a mixture of Dutch and Malay blood, to which class belong the Resident, the Secretary, and other Public Functionaries; 2dly, the unmixed Malay: 3dly, Chinese, of which there are a considerable number; 4thly, a mixture of the Chinese and Malay:—there are few Europeans, Mr. Bechade, a merchant, Mr. Macleod, a naturalist, and the ex-Secretary of Banda, a pure Dutchman (sent here without his own consent), being the only white inhabitants.

I could obtain no certain account of the total number, although I sought information from the channel where it was most likely to be found,—any thing resembling a census never having been thought of. The population, however, must be very considerable, particularly of the Malays; as on walking through the streets, great numbers of sturdy fellows are met with, who are either loitering about, perfectly idle, or triflingly employed in selling fruit and confectionary. Their wants are few, and easily satisfied. They appear to be as much enamoured with the delightful far niente as the Neapolitan Lazzaroni, to whom, in this and in other points of character, they bear a strong resemblance.

The Chinese, who are chiefly mechanics, work industriously on their arrival; they soon, however, quit their original trade, preferring to wander about the country as chapmen, bartering various articles for honey and bees'-wax. The town is consequently very badly supplied with artificers, so much so, that Mr. Bechade was obliged to send a coffee-mill to Baffles' Bay, to be repaired.

Excepting the Chinese, all the inhabitants are, or profess to be. Christians, having been converted through the instrumentality of the Missionaries, who are sent here, and to the neighbouring islands, by the Dutch Government, from which they receive a very slender salary; the Missionaries, in general, are much respected by the natives, and as they commonly contrive to get married to Rajahs' daughters, they are enabled to live very comfortably.—Such intermarriages with the natives may be considered more advantageous, both in a religious and political point of view, than providing a missionary, on the eve of his departure from his native land, with a helpmate whom he may never have previously seen, and who may not be at all calculated to add, either to his happiness or usefulness.

The Amity, which was laden with buffaloes, sheep, and maize, for the use of the settlement at Raffles' Bay, was repaired, and in a fit state for sea on Saturday, the 7th of June; and on Sunday morning, at daylight, we sailed from Coupang. Captain Young, his officers, and several of the crew, were to leave on the following Tuesday, in the Dutch brig Merkus, belonging to Mr. Bechade, for Batavia, and the remainder were to proceed in a Chinese vessel to the same place. As I before stated, the carpenter (who had, since his arrival in port, been offered great inducements to remain), and five of the crew, accompanied me in the Amity. It was not without regret that I again parted from my other shipwrecked companions, particularly Captain Young, whom I much esteemed.

Having passed the Straits of Semao, the sea being smooth, and the breeze fevourable for beating, we endeavoured to work to the eastward, but owing to the strength of the current, we could not make any progress; it was therefore deemed advisable to run through the Straits of Rottee, and then to stretch across to the New Holland shore; as it was probable, that a quicker passage might be made by pursuing this course, than by beating up directly in the teeth of the monsoon. In the evening, we accordingly bore up, shortened sail, so as to pass leisurely and cautiously through the Straits, lest we might be suddenly brought up by some unknown danger. Next morning, we hauled up, passed between Rottee and Pulo Dama, and stretched to the southward.

As Captain King's charts were not on board, and as several islets, reefs, and shoals, whose positions are far from being accurately ascertained, are said to exist in the Timor Sea, more particularly in that part of it which we intended to traverse, arrangements were made to insure a strict look out, especially during the night.

On the 15th, at daylight, several islands were observed bearing S.E.; we stood on the starboard tack, and at noon the western island bore about S., distant five or six leagues ; our latitude was 13° 50' south, and longitude 129° 59' 15" east.

In the evening, we again stood to the S.E., and at daylight, on the 16th, the eastern island of the group bore S. by E., distant about three miles, when we stood on the other tack. These islands not being laid down by Flinders, considerable care was taken to ascertain their true position, although we had no doubt that they had been noticed by Captain King.

At noon our latitude was 13° 43' S., and longitude 125° 31' E. About half past one, P.M., the cry of "Breakers right a-head" made us all on the alert; the vessel was kept away, and the mate sent to the masthead to observe the extent and direction of the reef, while others were employed in ascertaining its situation. At lh 45', P.M., when the southern extremity of the reef was visible, bearing exactly east, distant about two miles, the altitude of the sun was taken, and again at a convenient interval (the brig having little way), for the purpose of ascertaining the latitude by a double altitude[3]. The south part of the reef was thus ascertained to be in latitude 13° 35' S.; and by the sun's meridian altitude, brought forward by account, 13° 35'; and by the mean of the meridian altitudes of several stars observed between 6h 40' and 9 P.M., and carried back by account 13° 35' 25". And from the care thus bestowed, I think the latitude may be considered pretty correct. The longitude by chronometer, corrected by lunar observation, is 125° 35' 45". The reef trended to the N.E. as far as the eye could distinctly survey[4].

We kept on to the northward, having no desire to meet other reefs, especially during the night; but after a day or two, our alarm having subsided, and making little progress, we again stood to the southward, and by keeping near the north coast, had favourable slants. We saw no more islands nor reefs, but passed over several extensive patches of discoloured water, which, however, were not of less depth than fifteen fathoms.

On the 24th of June, about midnight, having only four fathoms water, it was judged prudent to heave-to until daybreak, when we found ourselves close to Bathurst Isle. We then continued our course as near as the wind would permit, not hesitating to keep pretty close to the shore. We continued working up along Melville Island, and the Cobourg Peninsula, without seeing Buckle's Isle, for which I was keeping a look out, much more at my ease, than when expecting to see it in the boat.

About two, P.M., of the 31st of June, we arrived at Raffles' Bay, and shortly afterwards I went on shore, in company with my friend Mr. Radford, by whom I was introduced to the Commandant, who received me with politeness and sympathising cordiality, offering me an apartment in the fort, and a seat at his table.

I did not, however, take advantage of his proffered hospitality, having previously arranged to live with my friend Mr. Radford, until an opportunity offered of returning to Sydney, which, there was reason to hope, would soon occur, as I recollected that the Mermaid schooner was nearly ready to sail from Sydney when we left, to relieve the Amity which had been nearly two years on this station.

I met here several soldiers, and prisoners of the Crown, who had come to New South Wales under my care, whose condolence, which I believed sincere, afforded me much gratification.

  1. Neque vero ex multa fame nimia satietas, neque ex nimia satietate fames idonea est.
  2. The Dutch make this a place of banishment from their other settlements.
  3. I observe in a note in Galbraith's very excellent and compendious work on Navigation, lately published, that he has been informed by a celebrated navigator, that double altitudes are not so advantageous as is generally supposed. This may be the case; but they are not altogether to be despised. I have frequently seen them (Ivory's Problem being used) prove exceedingly useful.
  4. Some time after my arrival at Raffles' Bay, I had an opportunity of inspecting Captain King's Charts. He does not take notice either of the reef or of the islands;—supposing that they have not hitherto been met with, the reef may be named the Amity or Owen's Reef; and the islands (in compliment to Captain Barker, of the 39th Regiment, Commandant of the settlement at Raffles' Bay) Barker's Isles.