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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/A peep at some of the islands in the western Pacific



Our readers need not be detained by any details of our voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, and thence to Sydney. They shall be transported at once (metaphorically, of course) to the Bay of Islands, in New Zealand—to the lovely anchorage off the town of Kororarika, which had been the scene of some fierce fighting with the natives some years before. Our object was merely to take in a few sheep and vegetables, but as we had a day to spare, four of us were induced to start off for the famous Keri-Keri falls, some fifteen miles from where we were anchored. We had to pull some ten or twelve miles up a river, and after various little adventures “by flood,” such as running aground on sand-banks, stepping out and dragging the boat over into deep water, taking a stray shot at wild-ducks, &c., we landed at last at the Missionary Station where our travels “by field”—though fields there were none—were to commence. When we had discussed our potted salmon, and washed it down with sundry bottles of ale and porter, we set off in good spirits for the falls, led on by a guide at the rate of five miles an hour. Our way at first lay along a well-beaten sheep-track, across a flat country; but before we had got more than a mile and a half, our guide was evidently all abroad, and led us through swamps and a thick ti-tree scrub. When we reached plain ground again, no river was to be seen, no fall to be heard, although we had travelled more than the distance necessary to bring us to it. Our spirits were by this time a little damped, and our bodies more so, for the rain had been pouring down in torrents; still we went on, determined (if possible) to see the object of our visit, a fall of some eighty or ninety feet in height. At last we came to the stream, and a low distant murmuring was heard, which we were sanguine enough to believe might be the water-fall, but whether up the river or down the river we could scarcely tell. We went up for a few hundred yards—the sound gradually increased, but never approached to anything like a roar, when, on coming to a sudden bend of the river, we espied a fall of some four or five feet!—all we had to repay us for our long scramble through the scrub and swamps. Our guide now honestly confessed that he was “lost,” and had no idea where we were. We set off down the stream, hoping to stumble upon the object of our visit, but we had no time to make a long search, as the sun was rapidly going down. There was nothing for it but to strike off across country again for the station where we had left our boat, which we managed to reach just as the sun was setting. Thus, then, having failed in our attempt to reach the falls, our readers must excuse a description of them.

The river, by the way, is a splendid one for salmon ova to be sent out to—one of the very best at the Antipodes for that purpose. The rivers in the Hutt Valley, at Wellington—one also in the Canterbury Settlement—are worth a trial. Any of the New Zealand streams are better adapted for salmon than those in Australia, or even Tasmania.

We cannot resist the temptation of relating the following anecdote of the Apostolic Bishop of New Zealand, the scene of whose adventure lies here. He had persuaded the Bishop of Newcastle to start with him from Sydney on a missionary cruise in his little yacht to New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, the Loyalty and other islands in his then extensive diocese. Like ourselves they put in at the Bay of Islands. The Bishop of New Zealand wished to show his brother of Newcastle a little of the country, and for that purpose proposed to take him to a distant station on the other side of this very river. The ground was soft and boggy, as we had found it, and the Bishop of Newcastle had never been accustomed to “rough it” in such a country as this. He could ride his fifty miles a day in his own diocese, but his hardy brother always walked, and besides there were no horses to be had here. Always neat and spruce in his dress, looking “as if he had just come out of a bandbox,” and afraid like a cat to wet his feet, he picked his way most carefully and delicately, unlike his brother Bishop who tramped on “through thick and through thin,” till at last they came to the river side. The river was swollen with the heavy rain which had been pouring down in torrents for some days previously, and he of Newcastle looked awfully puzzled, wondering how they were to cross—neither bridge nor ford being visible in any direction. He was still further puzzled, when he saw the Bishop of New Zealand without a word deliberately taking off shoes, leggings, stockings, and last of all his breeches. In reply to his brother Bishop’s “whatever next?” he coolly collected his various articles of dress, and stepped into the river up to his apron, calling out as he did so, “Now then, Newcastle, off with your breeks, and follow your leader!” There was no help for it, as there was no other means of crossing the river, and the good Bishop invariably refused to be carried across by any of his Maori suite, on the ground that it was not right to treat such noble fellows “like beasts of burden.”

This modern Apostle used to think nothing of travelling from Auckland, on the north-eastern side of the Upper Island, to New Plymouth, or Taranaki, on the south-western side—thence across country to Wellington, through Wanganui, Weikanei, and Porirua; then across the straits to Nelson in any vessel he could get, and on to the Canterbury Plains, walking his 800 or 1000 miles from village to village, with a few native attendants to carry his blankets and potatoes!

It is perhaps hardly necessary to add that by the time the two Bishops had finished their cruise, one of them had had enough of it, and gave up “missionary cruising” as a bad job. Since that time Bishop Patteson has taken the “oversight” of all these islands to the northward of New Zealand, and is succeeding admirably.

On our return to the ship off Kororarika, we found everything ready for a start, but before shifting the scene to the New Hebrides, we must say a word or two about New Zealand in general, every port of which we have visited, except Otago. To our readers one and all we say, “If you hear anything said against any of the various settlements in this most magnificent country, don’t believe a word of it.” There is no climate in the world like it; no colony in which Englishmen thrive so well. To say nothing of the minerals, gold fields, coalfields, &c., the Canterbury settlement at no very distant period will be the granary of Australasia, and its capital, Christ Church, will be the London of the Southern Hemisphere. The present unhappy war, confined entirely to the, western side of the North Island, will soon be brought to a close, and would never have commenced had we ourselves been wise.

A few days’ sail with a fair wind soon enabled us to cast anchor off Aneiteum, the southernmost of the New Hebrides. Here we found a sandal-wood establishment conducted by a Captain Padden—the same adventurer who was recently obliged to escape from New Caledonia in an open boat, where he seems to have taken part in an attempt to excite the natives against the French. His establishment at Aneiteum gave employment to a great number of the cannibal population of the island, both male and female, and had evidently had considerable effect in semi-civilising the natives, who, but for his influence, would in all probability have given the missionaries (sent out by the London Missionary Society) the same warm reception that the people of other islands in the same group have hitherto done, who invariably cook and eat them!

There were at that time two missionaries on the island, one on the side where the anchorage is, the other on the opposite side. Mr. Alexander, who was the first to attempt the conversion of the natives, and who had settled down before the arrival of Captain Padden, was not so fortunate as Mr. Geddes, who came to assist him. One of the savages, who was generally supposed to have been mad, entered his house and made a most murderous attack upon Mrs. Alexander, whom he hacked and cut with a hatchet and left for dead. He was secured by his own friends, who tried him by their own laws, and executed him after their own fashion. They killed him, cut him in pieces, and distributed the portions amongst the various families in the neighbourhood, who testified their abhorrence of their comrade’s villany by making a good dinner literally at his expense!

The first day we landed amongst these simple-minded savages, the doctor, who happened to be very stout and in excellent condition, excited by far the greatest attention. Whilst we were sitting on a log waiting for a boat to take us off to the ship, men and women crowded round him, feeling his arms and legs, smacking their lips as they did so, no doubt thinking what a splendid broil they would make!

The inhabitants of all the islands touched upon in this paper—viz., the New Hebrides, Loyalty Islands, Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Solomon Islands—are not Malays, like the people of Eastern Polynesia, but belong to the Papuan (or Negro) race; in colour, however, several shades lighter than the African: but they are all cannibals.

We left Aneiteum on the 24th August, and next day were off Tana—Port Resolution and its immediate neighbourhood being the scene of our adventures in that island. Leaving the ship to “stand off and on” outside, we landed in our cutter, cooked a few sweet potatoes in the hot sulphur springs, and after our frugal repast started for the volcano, which we found labouring away just as actively as it did in Captain Cook’s time. A walk of four miles—along a beautiful pathway, flanked on either side by gigantic trees, amongst them the banyan and wild nutmeg-tree, as well as by the hibiscus and other flowering shrubs of various kinds—brought us to the foot of the volcano. There were eight or ten craters, extending over an area of three miles in diameter, which was covered thick with scoria and ashes. Four or five of these craters were extinct; one or two were smouldering and smoking, but two were active enough with a vengeance. Every five minutes there would be a tremendous explosion, and when the smoke had cleared away, we could see high up in the air immense masses of scoria, looking like great blocks of worm-eaten timber, which were red hot when they fell—hot enough almost to melt the few “coppers” upon which we experimented. All the time we were standing on the very edge of the most active crater, and had to dodge the falling masses as best we could. The effect was grand in the extreme, and the reports excessively loud. They are sometimes heard as far as Aneiteum, a distance of 35 miles. We remained till late in the afternoon, and then returned by another path, attended (as before) by several natives and by Captain Padden, who knew them, and had come with us on business.

When about half-way back to the landing-place, we came upon a large party of men and women, who were celebrating the ripening of the bread-fruit: in fact it was a regular “harvest-home,” and a strange sight it was. They were assembled in a hollow circular space of ground, surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of rocks, over which our path led, and from which we had a splendid view of the extraordinary spectacle below us. There must have been at least 500, men and women together, who were dancing most vigorously, going round and round, the men in the centre, and the women, two deep, forming the outside circle. The latter had their faces painted black—the pigment used being plumbago, which is found in large quantities, and of the very finest quality, in the neighbouring island of Erromango, and extensively used by both sexes. The women’s heads were decorated with feathers, their arms with bracelets of white shells strung together, and their bodies from waist to knee covered with a thick crinoline, composed of the bright green leaves of the Dracaena plant, and a bustle behind of fern leaves. The men had their faces smeared with red ochre, and their arms decorated in the same way as the women. Both were armed with clubs, which were held aloft as they coursed along in the dance to the music of their rattling bracelets. Each dance would last for five minutes, the “fun” getting gradually “faster and more furious,” till it was brought to a sudden termination by a simultaneous yell of delight. After a brief rest they would begin again and go through the same figure. The appearance of the dancers by twilight—the painted beauties with the perspiration pouring in streams down their faces and backs—was a most extraordinary sight, and it was long before we could prevail on ourselves to leave them. Shortly after leaving this spot, we parted with our native guides, Captain Padden rewarding them with a little tobacco each, the only article of barter which they then cared to accept; but they seemed to be dissatisfied with the quantity, and muttered what we thought to be threats of vengeance as they parted from us about half a mile from the landing-place. We saw nothing more of them, however, and arrived on board quite safe. A small schooner that visited Port Resolution some months afterwards did not escape so fortunately. Her crew were all murdered in retaliation for an outrage committed by a sandal-wood trader a short time before, who had shot a chief, named Gaskin, whom we had found very civil and attentive. It is the reckless conduct of these unprincipled traders that renders cruising amongst this group of islands so very dangerous. A native offends them in some way or other, and their deliberately shoot him. His friends and tribesmen retaliate on the first white man they meet, no matter whether the guilty individual or not; and woe betide the unhappy voyager who is the first to land here after an outrage has been committed by some rascally sandal-wood trader, or beche-de-mer collector. I never heard what became of Captain Padden, but it is due to him to say, that he was an honest, upright trader, and highly esteemed by the natives of this group.

On the 27th of August we anchored off Erromango, the island where John Williams, the missionary, was murdered in 1839. Two other missionaries of the London Society were stationed here in 1842, but were obliged to leave in consequence of an epidemic breaking out soon after their arrival, the idea of the natives being that foreigners always bring sickness and death in their train.

Soon after we anchored we were visited “by numbers of natives, to whom we made presents of pipes and tobacco, strips of calico and red comforters, &c.; whilst they were on board they saw the ship’s barber shaving some of the men, and many of them begged for a shave and seemed highly delighted with the operation.

Next day the surgeon and myself went on a dredging expedition in the dingy, taking with us and landing on the beach an officer of the 11th Regiment who had come with us for a cruise. He was a keen hand at bargaining with the natives for curiosities, and anxious to cut us all out, took this opportunity of lauding all alone and getting the first pick of everything, whilst the doctor and myself were intent upon dredging up, if possible, one of the far-famed “orange couries.” He took with him a bundle of razors for bartering with, and no sooner exhibited one than the news spread like wild-fire amongst the natives far and wide. He was soon surrounded by a crowd, wildly gesticulating, and jabbering like a parcel of monkeys. He did not at first know what to make of it, and called lustily to us to come to his assistance with the dingy. We saw that he was in no danger, and took time to haul up our dredge, and then leisurely pulled away towards him. By the time we arrived on the spot he had discovered what the good-natured savages wanted, and was busy operating on a sable chin with a razor made for sale or barter but never meant for shaving, much less for dry shaving! The sight was a most ludicrous one—our friend scraping away for very life in an awful funk, and the natives one after another submitting patiently to the ordeal with tears running down their cheeks, and streams of blood flowing from their lacerated chins.

By way of serving him out for having many a time cut us all out in the way of bargaining for curious clubs, &c, we pushed off again into deep water, leaving him to his fate and his barbarous employment! We did not listen to his entreaties to be taken away, till he had gone over at least a dozen chins.

During the time we stayed we were treated with the greatest kindness, and on leaving the island brought away with us two smart boys of 12 and 16 years of age for the Bishop of New Zealand. At that time his lordship used to spend the winter months in cruising amongst these islands, returning boys from his school at Auckland, and obtaining others for a year’s training in their place. By this means he had acquired the confidence of the savages, and had obtained a most extraordinary influence over them. When our interpreter explained to the ferocious-looking chiefs that we would undertake to deliver their sons and heirs to the good Bishop, they sent them at once. Their wardrobe was not a very extensive one, and they required no preparation in the way of packing, but stepped into the boat as they were, in puris naturalibus. They were soon rigged out on board, in a few weeks were taught to make their own clothes, and long before we had an opportunity of falling in with the Bishop’s schooner, had become expert sailors.

On the 1st of September we ran over to Fati, or Vate, commonly called Sandwich Island, and anchored in Havannah Harbour. One object we had in visiting this island was to return a boy, the son of a chief, whom Captain Oliver, of the Fly, had brought away to Sydney the year before. There were great rejoicings on his return, and his old father loaded us with presents of pigs, vegetables, such as yams, taro, &c, and fruits of various kinds.

On the 8th we sailed for Malicolo, and anchored in Port Sandwich for the afternoon. Several of us landed, and after inspecting their curious images in the village near the landing-place, started off into the interior along a native track, but were with difficulty allowed to pass a chief who was coming down attended by two of his harem. However, we embarked without an accident. Shortly afterwards the Bishop of New Zealand put in here, and landed with his chronometer to get a set of sights. The natives could not understand what he was after, and drove him into the sea, his lordship having to swim for his life, and spoiling his chronometer. Nothing daunted he put in here again the following year, and landed on the beach amidst the assembled natives. They must have heard something of him in the meantime, for they now received him with open arms, and carried him in procession on their shoulders to their main village.

After skirting along Espiritu Santo we arrived on the 13th at Vanikolo, one of the Queen Charlotte group, and anchored at the very place where La Perouse lost his two vessels in 1788, as was most satisfactorily ascertained by Dillon, in the Research, in 1826, who discovered, and sent to France, numerous relics of the unfortunate navigator and his ships, for which he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. We saw very little of the natives, who lived in the interior of the island. They were the first betel-nut chewers we had fallen in with. We left on the 16th, and on the 18th and 19th ran along the south side of San Christoval, in the Solomon group, and on the evening of the 21st anchored in a hitherto undiscovered harbour inside the Island of Malata, to which we gave the name of Port Adam. On landing, we found the village deserted, evidently having been abandoned in great haste. We remained here a few days, but saw nothing of the natives till we were leaving the harbour, when wo espied them making their way in their canoes from various distant points to the village near which we anchored.

Whilst we were running along San Christoval, between Mount Tom and Malo Bay, we were surrounded with canoes full of natives, with whom we spent the greater part of a day bargaining. When it was getting time to make sail again, we explained to the natives on board that they must leave the ship. They all did so except one, a fine young lad of seventeen or eighteen, who ran up into the main-top, and refused to return to his canoe. We explained to him that we should probably never return to his island, and that if he went away with us, he might never be able to revisit his friends and native island. Still he would go and did go, intimating that he would moi moi (sleep) in the ship. The men contributed various articles of clothing, and in a few minutes his kit was complete, and he was quite at home, becoming a sailor at once instinctively. He could go aloft, reef, &c., with the best of them. Six months afterwards we fell in with the Bishop of New Zealand, and handed over our new friend to him, much against his will. A year afterwards the writer of this article fell in with him again, when the Bishop looked in at Sydney on his way North with his freight of black pupils. I asked the Bishop to allow me to take Mesty on shore with me for the night, and then learnt something of his previous history. By this time he could speak English accurately, and could write and read well. On asking him why he had insisted upon leaving home, he burst out laughing and told me that his big brother, who was the chief of that part of the island, had “licked” him the morning we visited the place, and so he determined to run away and leave him. He told me that at his return his friends would look upon him as a much greater man than his brother, in consequence of his travels in distant countries, and he was not in the least afraid to return. He became one of the Bishop’s most useful pioneers, and I hope has never regretted the step he took in resenting his brother’s beating.

A few words respecting the fauna, &c., of the islands, as well as the dress, manners, and customs of the natives, will conclude this chapter.

In New Zealand and the other islands referred to, there is not a single venomous reptile of any kind whatever, the only indigenous animal being a small Kangaroo rat. The famous Aracauria—the Kauri of New Zealand—we found in New Caledonia and Vanikolo. In spite of the volcanic formation of the islands, they are covered with a dense vegetation, a great variety and profusion of ferns, and magnificent forest trees of various kinds. They are well within the Tropics, lying between latitudes 91 and 20° 30′ south. In New Caledonia, latitude 20° to 24° south, the gum-tree of Australia flourishes to a great extent.

The dress throughout the islands varies but little, a broad or narrow band across the loins making all the difference, where there is a dress at all In the New Hebrides it is impossible to describe it, the attempt to make decent appearance in society being the most ludicrous thing ever witnessed.

In Fati, the women wear a broad belt of matting, made from the inner rind of some tree, with some little attempt at ornament in the pattern; but they have besides a most curious tail-like appendage behind, which has a very odd appearance when seen as they are scudding away from the sight of a stranger. The women here have their hair cropped quite close—the men dress theirs in all sorts of fantastic shapes, and wear it long and frizzy.

Their lands are well and artistically cultivated, irrigation being practised to a considerable extent. They grow yams, cocoa-nuts, sugar-cane, bananas, taro, bread-fruit, pumpkins, melons, and even here and there Indian wheat.

In the New Hebrides the natives worship oblong stones, from six to eighteen inches in length, in each of which they suppose a divinity, or demon, resides, which they call a Natmas. There is a chip off one end of the stone by which the Natmas effects an entrance. The chief of the tribe is the priest, whose duty it is to propitiate the Natmas, who is of course a malignant being. The head Natmas (answering to our Satan) is called Neijeroon. In Malicolo we found large images, made of a kind of cloth, and stuffed with some elastic substance—each in form like a well-shaped man, and painted like a mummy. All the islanders have traditions of the deluge, &c. For instance, the people of Aneiteum believe that their own particular island was fished up out of the ocean by one of their deities, who made a man and woman, from whom they were descended, and that in consequence of the growing wickedness of the people in after ages, a flood came and drowned all except a man and his wife, who were saved in a canoe.

J. M.