Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI.


Native Dance—Natives visit H.M.S. Satellite and the Ship Reliance—Arrival of the Schooner Admiral Gifford—Affray at Hammond's Island—Disgraceful conduct of the Crews of small Vessels—Anecdotes concerning the Natives.

Expecting to meet several old shipmates in the Satellite, I was not long in paying her a visit; and the cordial reception I met with, recalled to my memory the days of "Auld lang syne." I dined on board with Captain Laws, from whom I received much information respecting the inner route through Torres' Straits. He told me he had seen the wreck of the Swiftsure, within less than half a mile of the shore at Cape Sidmouth;—that he had sent on board, but nothing was observed excepting a few empty casks floating in the hold.

In the evening of the 30th, Wellington, the native chief, with a number of his tribe, visited the. settlement, and brought back the canoe. I was much pleased at this occurrence, as it established the position that Captain Barker and myself firmly maintained, viz. that the natives were not such rogues as they were reported to be; and that they were "more sinned against than sinning." This was the first time I had seen Wellington, and I was agreeably deceived in his appearance.

Next morning, Captain Barker made him a present of the canoe; but it was some time before he could believe that it was a gift: it is needless to say how highly gratified he was by such an acquisition.

At this time, there happened to be a misunderstanding between him and Miago, on account of jealousy, for Miago had lately become rather a favourite in the camp; and, consequently, received many a piece of old iron hoop, and even two or three nails, and other presents: these favours were far from being relished by Wellington, who occasionally got sulky; as he wished himself to be the only source through which any of his subjects should receive favours: but the present of the canoe had put him into such good humour, that he resolved to gratify us with a dance.

In the evening, a large fire was kindled just before the fort, and the natives danced round it with great vigour and spirit, to the music, produced by one of their party from a long hollow tube. Dr. Davis joined them, but although he might "keep time" correctly enough for a civilized ball-room, yet he fell short in that necessary part, at least to a savage ear; so they, in very polite terms, requested that he would not fatigue himself, but stand and look at them. Lieutenant Weston, of the East India Company's service, took a very spirited and correct sketch of this singular performance. Wellington did not dance himself, being busily employed in persuading us that Miago was only a Mandrowillie, and therefore not entitled to so much attention.

After the dance, they were all regaled with a mess of rice, of which they are very fond. Supper being finished, they requested permission to remain all night in the settlement, which was granted; and Captain Laws having invited Wellington, and several others, including Miago, to visit the Satellite next forenoon, they retired very quietly and contentedly to rest.

On the morning, long before the appointed time, Wellington and his party, consisting of Olobo and Miago, pulled on board the Satellite in his lately-acquired canoe. Captain Laws, Captain Barker, and myself, went on board about eleven o'clock. We found our sable friends highly delighted with their entertainment, having been shaved and clothed. They seemed to pay particular attention to the manoeuvres of the marines.

Captain Laws having ordered two guns to be loaded, the natives begged that they might not be fired. Olobo jumped on the poop, and placed himself behind a sailor, of whom he kept fast hold, scarcely having courage to peep over his shoulders. Wellington was invited to fire the first gun, but no persuasion
Narrative of a Voyage Round the World - Jolly Boat's Crew.jpg

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Jolly boat's crew soliciting to be received into the long boat.

could prevail on him to do so; and placing his hands over his ears, he went to the opposite side of the deck. Miago was then led to the gun; when Wellington, fearing that Miago might acquire more credit, jumped to the gun, and fired it. Miago fired the second gun without hesitation, and when he and Wellington saw the shot strike the water near the shore, their astonishment was extreme. After a few seconds of mute surprise, Miago cut a variety of capers on the quarter-deck, to the infinite amusement of the ship's company. As for Olobo, he appeared to be glad that the affair was over.

While we were at tiffin in the cabin, Wellington came down, and requested that no present might be given to any person but himself. This prohibition was directed in a special manner against Miago. Then turning round to the Captain's steward, he inquired his name, and what he was. On learning that he was a Mandrowillie, he immediately took him by the back of the neck, and endeavoured to thrust him out of the cabin. Being requested to desist, he did so, but with some reluctance; he requested permission to sit down with us, and was gratified by receiving the desired indulgence. He then resumed the old grievance about Miago, with great vehemence of jargon and gesture. In the midst of his oration, he happened to turn round, and to his astonishment beheld Miago standing at the cabin door, listening with great tranquillity and composure to his harangue; when, with dexterity that could not have been exceeded by a civilised man of the world, if caught in such an awkward predicament, he immediately changed the subject, pretending to be talking of something else, and at the same time very graciously and condescendingly presented some fish-hooks to Miago, who received them with sulky indifference.

The sight of dinner, which was now ready for them, restored good humour. They were served, on the quarter-deck, with a large dish of rice, sugar, yams, and pumpkins, of which they partook very heartily. They did not appear to relish the pumpkins, but the yams and rice they enjoyed greatly. They requested some of the sailors, who had been civil to them, to partake; and seemed to think it strange that they could not come abaft the gangway to do so.

As they could not consume the half of what was prepared for them, Wellington received permission to take the remainder on shore; when he made an equal distribution of it amongst a number of his tribe, who had been on the beach all day, waiting his return. He also entertained them with an account of his adventures on board, with which they appeared to be no less gratified, than with the habiliments and other presents which their chieftain had received.

Next day, the same party were taken on board the ship Reliance, after having received particular instructions not to throw aside their dress (which they were apt to do) in the presence of the ladies. As the ship had no guns, and was otherwise unlike the Satellite, Wellington called her a Mandrowillie ship, and paid little attention to any thing on board. He had, however, sufficient good taste to admire the ladies, and was particularly struck with the beautifully luxuriant ringlets of one of them.

On Sunday, August the 2d, Wellington and a few natives; and shortly afterwards, Miago and others from a different part of the coast, paid another visit to the settlement.

Having obtained the loan of King's Australia, I embraced the opportunity of comparing the Baffles' Bay dialect with those he has taken notice of:—they did not bear the smallest resemblance. Wellington being placed in a chair alongside of me, and being in a good humour, he went on some time pretty well, now and then digressing about Miago being a Mandrowillie, and stating his annoyance at our marked attentions to him.

While he was thus remonstrating, Miago made his appearance, and of course was kindly received; but this was so discordant with the feelings of Wellington, that he became sulky, and would not answer any more questions. I then addressed myself to Waterloo, the chief that ran away with the axe (after having seen and tried its use), who gladly began to communicate the desired information. On this, Wellington thought it prudent to be communicative, and gave me the native names for "head," "eyes," "nose," "mouth," &c., with such volubility, that I could not understand him. It was with difficulty I could keep his attention to the subject; he said nothing more about Miago, he being present, but ever and anon talked about a mambrual.

After having explained to him that I would give him a present, if he would have a little patience, he was satisfied, but kept a bright look out, lest any of his tribe should in the interim receive any thing; at last I succeeded in removing his fears in that respect, but another unlooked-for result followed. Not possessing the same interest in communicating, as I did in receiving information, his attention being kept so long on an object altogether uninteresting to him, he soon fell fast asleep.

On Monday, Captain Laws gave a déjeuné à la fourchette on board the Satellite; Captain Barker, Dr. Davis, Lieutenants Weston and Gray, and three ladies, were present, which rendered it quite a gay scene in this remote corner of the globe. The crew of the Satellite pitched their tents on shore; and Captain Laws embraced this opportunity of painting the ship inside and out. The officers also took up their abode on shore, which made the settlement assume a very active appearance.

We learned, from despatches, that the Governor Phillips, was, after her return from Norfolk Island, to proceed immediately for Raffles' Bay, to assist in the removal of the settlement, and as Captain Laws imagined that she had arrived in Sydney the same morning that he left it, she ought to have made her appearance ere this; and apprehensions were now entertained that she had met with some accident, and various circumstances rendered this not at all improbable.

To obviate the inconveniences that would arise to the settlement, in the event of such an accident, it was judged expedient by Captain Laws and Captain Barker to charter (under certain conditions) the brig Thompson, to carry cattle, stores, and a proportion of the people, as far as Swan River, (where the cattle and stores were to be left,) and the people to be carried on, in the brig Amity, to King George's Sound.

Tuesday, August the 4th, Wellington, accompanied by a native, paid another visit to the camp: to-day his first word was "Mambrual," and the second "Miago mandrowillie." He was gratified by my saying "ēē ēē." and was then presented with a shirt, when he begged that Miago should not receive any thing. After having adjusted his shirt-collar by the aid of a looking-glass, and having admired himself sufficiently, he accompanied Captain Laws and myself into the bush, and, being in a good humour, he gave us the native names of such natural objects as presented themselves.

We visited Mr. Radford's grave, and Wellington appeared to be a good deal affected, when he understood who was buried there, repeatedly uttering in a plaintive tone, "Mutē commissarēē andē." He was very particular in his inquiries as to the names and rank of others buried near the same spot; and on returning, we overheard him explaining these particulars to the other natives.

Passing the hut, inhabited by the soldier and his wife under whose charge the native girl was, Wellington went to take some notice of her, but she endeavoured to hide herself, and could not be induced to come near him, until forced to do so;—being somewhat piqued at this, he informed us she was a Mandrowillie.

It is a singular circumstance, that this girl has such an aversion to her countrymen, that if, while she happens to be playing with any of the other children, she observes the natives coming towards the settlement, she instantly endeavours to get out of their view.

Orders were received from Sydney to leave this girl behind; but, as it was imagined that such orders had been issued under the impression that her removal would be against the wishes of the natives. Captain Barker determined to take her to Sydney; more particularly as her father, and all the other natives were extremely solicitous that she should not be left behind, and expressed great satisfaction when they understood that she was to be taken with us. It was some time, however, before the natives could comprehend that we were all going away. They appeared to be very sorry, and many of them gave us to understand that they would willingly accompany us.

On Friday, August the 7th, the brig Thompson was chartered conditionally to assist in conveying us to Swan River; and arrangements were now made for the division of the people: Dr. Davis was to proceed in the Amity, and I was to accompany the Commandant in the Thompson.

This chartering of the Thompson was judicious; she was to remain ten days; and if, during that interval, the Governor Phillips did not arrive, she was then definitively engaged to proceed to Swan River for the sum of 400l. Should, however, the Grovernor Phillips arrive, she was to receive 50l. as demurrage, and the charter to be void. This afternoon the Reliance sailed for India.

On Sunday, the 9th, several of the natives visited the settlement; the timorous Olobo received a mambrual, which he stowed carefully away in his basket, lest, as I imagine, Wellington might perceive and wish to have it.

In the afternoon a vessel hove in sight, which it was hoped might be the Governor Phillips; but she proved to be the schooner Admiral Gifford, from Sydney, employed in the Trepang fishery, in which she had been pretty successful.

In the evening, as several of the midshipmen were amusing themselves by firing at the marines' weather-cock, one of the balls whistled over the heads of Olobo and his company, who were enjoying themselves with a large dish of rice; and who (being previously rather alarmed by the foolish and reprehensible conduct of the gun-room steward, in snapping an unloaded pistol at Olobo's breast) started off like lightning into the bush. This event caused us much annoyance.

From the master of the Admiral Gifford, I learned the following particulars, which, if true, reflect little credit on all concerned.—While off Hammond's Island, the natives made a signal for them to come on shore; a boat was accordingly sent, and soon returned with two natives, who came without hesitation. They were well treated on board, having received food and various presents. The boat was again sent on shore with them, and the crew were directed to procure tortoiseshell.

Shortly after they landed, the natives endeavoured to entice the sailors into the bush; but, not succeeding, they attacked and knocked two of them down, and were advancing towards the third, when he fired his musquet, and killed one of those who had been on board. Another of the sailors, while lying on the ground, being attacked by two natives, who were struggling to obtain possession of his pistol, discharged it, and killed them both. After this, the other natives fled, and the boat returned; when the master, hearing the account of the transaction from the mate and sailors, went immediately on shore, but could discover no trace of the natives, dead or alive.

I have not the smallest doubt, that this shameful transaction is widely different from the exparte relation given of it; and it is much to be regretted, that cognizance of such occurrences is not taken before a competent court of justice. The outrageous behaviour of the greatest part of those lawless vagabonds, employed, or employing themselves, along the coast, in procuring seal-skins, towards the Aborigines, is quite notorious: many well authenticated instances of their horrible cruelty have come to my knowledge. In the present instance, it is evident, that the story is exceedingly confused; and this occurrence may be the cause of the destruction of the next Europeans who land on the island;—as these savages, cherishing revenge, will probably inflict it on the first Europeans that fall within their power.

It is the duty of every one (and it ought to be enforced) to behave with great caution and mildness in his intercourse with the natives; but more particularly with those, whose abode lies in the track of ships, the crews of which, by a misfortune common in these seas, may be (as they frequently have been) entirely at the mercy of these ignorant, but not naturally evil-disposed savages.

I was also informed by the master, who had touched at Hammond's Island on a former occasion, that the natives are cannibals, as they felt the fleshy part of his arms with apparent delight: this he observed to be a general action among cannibals. But, perhaps, the Malays, who accuse the Aborigines of Raffles' Bay of being cannibals, because they eat snakes, may be equally right in their surmises.

On Tuesday afternoon, 11th of August, we were gratified by a visit from three natives; Jacama, alias Waterloo, Marambal, alias Alligator, (so named on account of his immense mouth, and long white teeth,) and Mimaloo, alias One-eye. Orders were given to prevent the discharge of fire-arms in the camp, as it was deemed indiscreet to run any risk of breaking the good understanding that at present existed, by any incautious act; the natives not being able to discern the difference between firing for fun, and firing with intent to destroy.

They came to the cottage just as we had finished dinner; and knowing they were welcome, walked in, and made themselves at home. They discovered great emotion at the sight of a turtle, which I had received from the master of the Admiral Gifford. Waterloo requested very clamorously to have it; but he was kept within bounds by the other two.

Mimaloo then showed us their method of killing the turtle, and pointed out, with signs of ecstatic delight, the parts of it that they chiefly prized; and—whatever difference may exist between them in other respects—we found, that in the knowledge of turtle, a savage is as skilful as an alderman.

They were much amused by a musical snuff-box: Mimaloo, in particular, paid great attention to it; at first, the "stops" seemed to confound him; but he soon started up, and, with Marambal, danced a waltz in a manner that astonished us.

Captain Laws then sent for the ship's fiddler; who turned to, con amore, with a favourite half-deck tune. After having heard it once. Dr. Davis, Marambal, and Mimaloo, began the dance: the Doctor was soon obliged to give in; but the two natives continued, with undiminished spirit, and intuitive skill, to perform feats worthy of, and receiving, unbounded applause. All the natives keep exceedingly correct time; and, if dancing consists in easy and gracefully varied positions of the body, the civilised professors of that useful art might have profited by the skill of the sable Mimaloo.

At length, from the fiddler's elbow becoming tired, the music ceased, one dancer threw himself on the ground, and the other rested his head on my knees; I placed him on a chair, when, balancing it on the after-legs, his head against the wall, he threw his legs on the table with all the nonchalance of an Indian pilot. This free and easy way created much mirth, particularly to the sailors, who were assembled round the cottage to witness the amusement.

Marambal then requested to have some water in a basin: which being brought to him, he squeezed into it honey out of a meshy fibrous bundle formed from the inner bark of young trees, (the only method the natives have of retaining honey,) and then dipping the bundle into the water, he sucked it with great avidity and seeming satisfaction. Having repeated this several times, he handed it to Mimaloo, who in the same manner partook of the refreshing beverage. They remained with us until after tea, which Marambal and Mimaloo partook of with becoming propriety. Waterloo's manner was more uncouth.

This scene must have appeared very strange to those who had formerly witnessed and borne a part in others so totally different. The same individuals that they had been accustomed, to consider, to treat, and to fear, as wild beasts, were now found to be, if not quite tame, at all events, not so maliciously disposed as represented. Indeed, it was impossible for any person, possessing common feelings of humanity, not to rejoice at the happy change brought about, in a great measure, if not entirely, by the judicious conduct of Captain Barker.