Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 10



Return to Dinner Island—Rendezvous with H.M.S. Diamond and Raven—Excursion to Heath Island—Departure for Normanby Island—Diaveri—An exciting Chase—Fruitless Negociations—Capture of an alleged Murderer—A Mistake and its Rectification—The real Simon Pure—His Adventures in Sydney—Return of the Author in H.M.S. Dart.

ON our return to Dinner Island, where we dropped anchor on the morning of the 10th October, we found H.M.S. “Diamond” awaiting us, and the “Raven” arrived a couple of hours later bringing a small mail from Australia, which afforded me the first news I had received since leaving Sydney. Visits were exchanged between Captain Clayton, Commander of the “Diamond,” and H.M. High Commissioner, a salute of honour being fired to the terror and astonishment of the natives on shore and the consternation of our poor cat.

The next day being Sunday I determined to make an excursion to some of the adjacent islands, our second officer, Mr. Rossiter, and Mr. Smart, the third engineer, offered to accompany me with Captain Lake’s permission, and two sailors volunteered to take an oar each. Thus our crew, including self and assistant, was composed of six men all well armed and quite prepared for any adventure that might befall us. We set out at daybreak taking a keg of water, some biscuits, and other provisions ample for the day. My photographic instruments were of course not omitted, but it turned out too windy to use them to advantage. We first made for a little island about mid-way between Samarai and the mainland of New Guinea. If I recollect rightly, it is named on the chart Middle Island. This little spot, though probably not containing more than ten acres of land and at the highest part not above fifty feet higher than the sea level, is covered with an endless variety of tropical verdure, from the graceful cocoa palm to the wonderful orchid. The rocks and the gnarled stems of the Malavas near the water's edge are now covered with many kinds of dendrobia, some of them in flower; I noticed one beautiful species, white waxlike pendant blossoms, and another with green flowers delicately shaded from olive to brown in the centre. Shells in profusion were found on the beach; Mr. Smart, being an ardent conchologist, was in his glory, and we experienced some difficulty in getting him to leave the new wonders he was discovering at every turn. A gigantic white convolvulus attracted our attention, and I collected about a dozen kinds of seeds in this locality. Some of each kind I gave to Mr. Guilfoyle, the Director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, on my return. It was about 7 a.m. when we pulled away towards Heath Island. We had to row hard to cross a swirling tide-rip, and it took us nearly two hours to reach the smooth water of the little straits that separate Heath Island from Bonarua Island, where Miller had erected a cobra station not long before his untimely death. The place was then in charge of a family of natives from Heath Island. The Heath Island natives are reputed cannibals, and were said to be at war just then with a tribe from a neighbouring shore. But as we were not actually forbidden the place we made up our minds to visit a few of their villages. Near Miller's store we landed and lit a fire to boil a billy of tea and have some breakfast. We were soon noticed, and the natives flocked around us both from the little island we were on, as also from the shores of Heath Island opposite. There were men, women, and children among the crowd, and they certainly appeared a most peaceful lot of people. After breakfast Smart amused them with his conjuring tricks while we inspected Miller's Store. Several tons of dried cocoa nut (cobra) were stacked up there ready for shipment, but the industrious owner now rested peacefully in his grave near the Mission Station



Reference page 69.

Black and white photograph of people sitting in a wide, open area in a village. A forest of palm trees fills the background.
Black and white photograph of people sitting in a wide, open area in a village. A forest of palm trees fills the background.
at Samarai, beyond all troubles and earthly care. Uproarious merriment and laughter recalled us from our meditations, and coming near our boat we found Smart excelling himself to everybody's delight. The natives had no weapons with them, but promised if we would cross to their village they would sell us plenty. The crossing took but a few minutes and we were accompanied by the whole crowd. They had seen and smelt our tobacco, and not receiving visitors often were all the more anxious to trade with us. I asked, and was given permission to inspect a number of their houses, and allowed to handle anything I pleased. On visiting native houses it is absolutely necessary to observe a certain amount of etiquette to avoid giving offence. For instance, I would never dream of entering a house without first inquiring for the owner and obtain his permission to enter. In most cases this is readily given. We had no interpreter on this occasion, and had to manage as best we could with signs and gestures. We came upon flagged places such as I described at Garihi. I interrogated by signs what these places were used for, and they seemed reticent to explain. I had a suspicion that they were used in connection with their cannibal feasts, and in order to facilitate explanation, I first pointed to the flags, and then taking up Smart's immense bare arm, I made a movement as though I would take a bite of it. They understood my meaning evidently, for they burst out into immoderate laughter, especially when I, following up the strain, took out my long hunting knife and pretended to kill Smart, suggesting meanwhile to them to get a fire ready to roast him. We visited seven villages during the day, and not to weary the reader I must omit many interesting incidents. We did a roaring trade with tobacco in exchange for weapons and implements. There were lots of skulls hanging up, more or less fractured, which we might have had, and very little persuasion accompanied by tobacco would have secured a few bundles of the smoke-dried remains of their ancestors. But I was chary about bringing these interesting objects on board. We had four or five on the sick list and, under these circumstances, a collection of human skeletons would scarcely have been considered an acquisition. We returned on board at sundown, after two hours' smart rowing against wind and tide, having travelled over about twenty miles of land and water, but we counted the trouble for nothing as against our interesting excursion and the considerable additions made during the day to our ethnological collections.

On Monday, the 12th October, the little flotilla hove anchor and left Dinner Island, the "Diamond" and "Raven" preceding, and the "Governor Blackall" following in their wake. The naval procession up China Straits possessed a certain dignity and solemnity, intensified by the nature of the errand on which it was despatched. The lovely surroundings were lighted up by the sun, which broke through the clouds soon after starting and dispersed the haze hanging over the land. The dangerous navigation rendered caution necessary, and we threaded our way through the coral reefs with the greater care from the want of a reliable chart, no adequate survey having yet been made. On our way up the Straits, H.M.S. "Dart" met us and signalled that she had Diaveri, Captain Miller's murderer, in custody on board. Coming alongside the "Diamond" the prisoner was shipped on board that vessel. It appears that the "Dart," on the outrage being reported, went direct to the scene of the crime and, through a native interpreter, demanded the murderer; what ensued is remarkably characteristic of native manners. The culprit himself came voluntarily on board, bringing presents to atone for his crime, and to make peace. The commander of the "Dart," however, not viewing homicide in the same light, made him a prisoner and delivered him on board the "Diamond." This duty performed, the "Dart" left us at Cape Ventenat and proceeded with her surveying duties.

Passing Normanby Island we anchored off Digaragara Island, the scene of the tragedy, in a bay unnamed in the chart, which it has been suggested should be called "Avenger" Bay. The native name of the locality is Negarera. Boats containing armed parties were sent on shore from each of the three vessels about five o'clock in the afternoon, to open up communication with the natives, but although a number were seen ashore at the time of anchoring, no sooner did the boats put off than they vanished like spectres into the dense forest, whence they could

Plate XXXIV.
Reference page 74.

Black and white photograph of a line of large thatched, raised buildings. A line of people stand and squat in the open area of the foreground.
Black and white photograph of a line of large thatched, raised buildings. A line of people stand and squat in the open area of the foreground.
descry our movements, their own being completely hidden from view. Under these circumstances the recall was sounded, and the crews put off for their ships at dusk. On their way several canoes were seen leaving the shelter of a promontory and paddling with all the speed they could towards the north to get out of the bay. Our officers thinking these might be the persons we were in quest of, or at any rate people who could supply information, gave orders to pursue, and a most exciting chase commenced, the boats' crews giving way with a will, and the canoes, seeing themselves chased, paddling with might and main for the shallow water where they would be safe from pursuit. Each boat made a capture, the "Raven" laying alongside a canoe containing three natives, while the "Blackall" boat captured another with two. The little dingy, after a desperate pull, overtook a canoe containing two men within a few boat-lengths of the reef, of whom one took to the water and escaped to the shore. It was nearly seven o'clock when the boats got back, and a signalman from the "Diamond," who was on board the "Blackall," wishing to report progress, used the steam whistle on the Morse principle, giving short and long splashes of sound. He certainly succeeded in making a hideous din, echoed from all the inland hills, whether intelligible or not I cannot say, but our poor prisoners were nearly frightened out of their wits, being too terrified to swallow the food we gave them. On the arrival of Mr. Chalmers, which took place shortly after, they were interrogated through his means and that of Paolo, and it turned out that they were natives of a northern district, who had been on a visit to Negarera. In order to afford Captain Clayton an opportunity of seeing them they were kept in custody till next morning, being stowed away for the night in the boatswain's locker and sailroom, where they must have spent a most miserable night. As they had no information to impart when taken on board the "Diamond" they were sent ashore with a few presents and dismissed. Early next morning, the 13th October, the General and Captain Clayton started on a cruise of inspection round Cape Ventenat, to the village whose inhabitants were known to have participated in the murder of poor Captain Miller. I profiting by the occasion to borrow the dingy to go ashore find take some views. I found, however, an insurmountable coral reef outlying the whole of the land, and as leaving the boat and thus cutting off our retreat was not to be thought of, we contented ourselves with admiring the marvellous marine formations over which our boat drifted. A party of natives, some ten in number, waded out towards us but could not be persuaded to approach closely. At length my assistant met them half way, and giving them some tobacco, with some difficulty induced one of them to trade a spear, which he fetched from shore and, though with great hesitation, brought to the boat. At this point and while we were negotiating for some sea urchins to be got out of the clefts of the coral reef, we were signalled for from the ship, as it was thought dangerous to trade with the natives during the existing state of affairs. Later in the morning Captain Lake, with two armed boats' crews, went ashore, pulling round Cape Ventenant and landing at the village, and I was allowed to accompany him, and was fortunate enough to get several good views of this interesting locality. This is the spot which was shelled next day and the houses destroyed, it being the settlement nearest to Digaragara Island, where poor Miller was murdered. The few huts along the beach were deserted, but the smouldering fires showed how recently they had been tenanted, and we had no doubt the natives were watching us from their hiding places. In the afternoon Paolo Fidele and two native interpreters were sent ashore, and succeeded in interviewing the old chief, who resolutely refused to come on board, and said it was impossible to give up the accomplices as they had taken to the bush. He further pleaded that the man Diaveri, who actually committed the deed, had gone on board of his own free will to make atonement, and nothing further having been seen of him since he naturally concluded that he had been killed. According to Normanby Island law, the culprit had done all in his power, and having offered native jewellery in value equal to the life he took, he fully expected to have squared matters. The Chief, from his point of view, thought that our party had treated Diaveri treacherously, and stedfastly refused to have any more parley unless the man was returned. Finally, he ordered interpreters and all to quit the island. Our people withdrew, for there was certainly no use in prolonging the interview. Still, as punishment was considered due according to our laws, Sir Peter and the Senior Captain of the Squadron determined to shell the village near which the murder was committed. This, as stated above, was done next morning. Three shells, one of which exploded before reaching the shore, were thrown, to warn any stragglers to clear out. The "Diamond" and "Raven" then sent an armed boat each, and fired a few huts. Signals were then given to proceed on our cruise, and no sooner had we shaped course than the natives appeared on the beach again. We closely scanned their movements through the glasses but could not discern any signs of distress. I do not think a single native was hurt during the fracas; in fact, the Commanders never intended to take life, but simply to administer a wholesome lesson. Another incident happened on the previous day which I must not forget to mention.

During the interview with the old chief the interpreter from Dinner Island recognized among the bystanders, from his red hair, a man named Baelala, who he made certain had taken an active part in the murder of Captain Fryer at Hoop Iron Bay, and so positive was he that it was determined to capture and take Baelala on board. The arrest was cleverly effected on trading being commenced, and he was shipped on board the "Diamond," handcuffed, and a sentry placed over him, his wretched wife making the beach resound for hours with shrieks of terror and grief.

On reaching Hoop Iron Bay a couple of days afterwards, it was found that the interpreter had made a grievous mistake. A party landing to parley with the natives, the real Baelala turned up. There could be no mistake this time, as the narrative will show, and to make amends it was determined to send the innocent man back to his home immediately. The mistake was interpreted to him, and after being loaded with presents, Mr. Chalmers personally conducted him to Negarera Bay, the "Raven" being told off for that duty. The joy of his poor wife and friends on his return may be better imagined than described.

After the punishment dealt for the outrage at Digaragara, the fleet proceeded to Slade Island, Engineer group, to inquire into the circumstances of the murder of a trader named Reid. It was found, however, that this man had been rather a lawless fellow, who for a long time set all native rules and mere common decency at nought. Sir Peter, considering that his fate had been brought about by his bad conduct, decided not to take any further steps in this matter. Hostilities being expected, I was not allowed to land the day we arrived, but matters being amicably settled, enabled me to get a characteristic village view before leaving next day. The houses here being differently built to any place we yet visited, I was very pleased to secure this picture. Many returned Queensland boys were met with here, Mr. Romilly being recognized by all who came on board, having been in charge of the "Victoria" on her cruise to return the natives, who had been labouring on the Queensland Plantations.

The Slade Island affair being thus disposed of, we steamed westward, and soon reached Moresby Island. We anchored about mid-day at Hoop Iron Bay, where the above-mentioned episode with Baelala took place.

Relations here with the natives were not considered safe, and much to my chagrin I was not allowed to land. Not lying far from shore, I could see several beautiful spots just fit for the camera, and to the west of the ship there stood the skeleton of an enormous Malava tree, its bleached limbs standing out distinctly against the bright green of the tropical forest. The scene reminded me of part of a certain picture by Doré, and I felt I could have braved a whole village of natives to secure a negative of it. But both Sir Peter, and afterwards Captain Clayton, were inexorable, and much against my inclination I had to stay aboard.

Before leaving Hoop Iron Bay, the real Baelala gave a minute description of how Fryer was murdered. This will be found amongst the official records of the trip, and need not here be repeated. But an episode from Baelala's life, which he related to us, will not be out of place. It appears that some years ago a trader, whose name I have

Plate XXXV.


Reference face 76.

Black and white photograph of a village of huts amongst palm trees with a heavily wooded background. A man stands and a woman sits in the foreground.
Black and white photograph of a village of huts amongst palm trees with a heavily wooded background. A man stands and a woman sits in the foreground.
forgotten, took Baelala to Sydney, and there exhibited him in a tent for money. When the novelty had worn off, and no more could be made out of the poor savage, the unscrupulous fellow simply turned him adrift. For some weeks the Papuan led a precarious existence, picking up bits of food from even the dust-pans and gutters, sleeping about the wharves in any corner he could find. After a while a publican in that neighbourhood took compassion on the homeless man, and in return for various small services fed him and gave him a place to sleep. This affair got talked about in Sydney, and Baron Miclohon Maclay, who passed through at that time, chanced to hear of it. Like a good Samaritan the Baron took charge of Baelala, and eventually brought him back to Moresby Island, on his way to the North Coast of New Guinea.

Towards noon on the 16th October, we anchored again at the road-stead of Dinner Island. Next day the "Harrier" arrived from Cooktown with the Australian Mail. It brought me rather distressing news. My wife's health, delicate always, had become worse, and grave fears were entertained. Though in her own letter there was nothing to cause immediate alarm, my friends urged me if possible to return. It so happened that H.M.S. "Dart" was to leave here for Sydney on the 21st to pay off, and ship a fresh crew. When I made my wish. to return known to Sir Peter, he seemed to regret the circumstances very much, and expressed the hope that I might be able to accompany him again next season. He also kindly promised to speak to Captain Clayton (who as senior of the station had to be consulted) about a passage home in the "Dart." Captain Clayton consenting. Captain Field, of the "Dart," courteously acceded to Sir Peter's wish, and I was granted a passage home in that vessel. The time of the change in the trade winds was approaching, and the few days before our departure the weather had been very uncertain. I made several attempts, but only got one chance of getting a few views of Dinner Island and Anchorage.

I must not omit to mention that Diavcri was ultimately taken to Port Moresby and liberated there, the laws of the protectorate not allowing a severer punishment than exile.

We left Dinner Island on October 21st, and after a most pleasant voyage reached Sydney on Sunday afternoon, the 1st November. My ethnological collections I shipped by the “Lyeemoon” to Melbourne, but my negatives, numbering about 128, I took for safety sake with me to Melbourne by rail, arriving on November 3rd, in the middle of the bustle and traffic of Cup Day. On reaching home I found the wife’s health considerably improved, though not quite restored.

Plate XXXVI.
Reference page 78.

Black and white photograph of three men and a woman with a moored canoe. Land can be seen in the background, across the water, with a forest and distant mountains.
Black and white photograph of three men and a woman with a moored canoe. Land can be seen in the background, across the water, with a forest and distant mountains.