Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 9

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Bertha Lagoon—Garihi—Ascent of the Peak—East shores of the Lagoon—Under weigh—The Brumer Group—Rendezvous at Dinner Island—Murder of Captain Miller—Investigations at Teste Islands.

LEAVING our grass cutting party, Mr. Bubb (my assistant) and myself, accompanied by Mr. Smart, our third engineer, wended our way to Garihi, a village facing the straits, from which our vessel lying at anchor was visible in the distance. We took the precaution to carry arms, but had no occasion to handle them, as the villagers received us literally with open arms, less, perhaps, out of feelings of platonic affection, than from ulterior views relative to tobacco. Our guides took us to the centre of the village, where a space about ten feet in diameter was rudely flagged with stones from the beach. Round the outside of this pavement large flat stones were set on edge in the ground at an angle like the backs of chairs. We were invited to be seated, and the chiefs and headmen of the place were presented to us. I gave the old warriors a few sticks of tobacco each, and to the women and children a dozen or two tin plates ornamented with stamped letters, and a kangaroo in the centre. These gifts were much appreciated, and yams, sweet potatoes and cocoa-nuts were heaped up in front of us as return presents. We then had a smoke, and Mr. Smart, by some conjuring tricks, in which he was an adept, first terrified, and then diverted the simple-minded natives. The wind being too high for photographing, we inspected some of the

Plate XXX.


Reference page 67.

Black and white photograph of a tall semi-complete building, made of logs, branches and thatch. The surrounding area is a village of similar, albeit smaller, buildings. A group of people sit and stand in the foreground.
interiors, and were amazed at the accumulation of rubbish which they contained. They keep all the skulls of wild pigs killed in hunting, and string them on sticks, tapering from the largest size to the smallest. These queer trophies are put in the side of the verandah as ornaments, much as an English Nimrod decorates his entrance hall with stags' antlers and foxes brushes. Human skulls also find a place, but these are suspended by strings and ornamented with white cowrie shells and tufts of grass. When swayed about by the wind, these shells tinkle on touching each other. Immediately over the front entrance the spears and other weapons are displayed, and one or two drums hang handy for use, while the large conch shell used in war and when out pig-hunting is invariably found in this part of the house. A little further back the seines and crayfish nets are suspended when dry, and the large meshed nets used in hunting are also carefully kept there. Behind them a little fence not more than 2 feet 6 inches high, divides the house into two apartments, the back one serving as kitchen, dining-room, and sleeping place. Their women perform the cooking and other household duties, the front apartment being used by the men, should the weather be rainy or boisterous. The houses in this locality are only one storey high, and the floor is on a level with the eaves of the roof. The interior consequently is triangular, and a man can only stand upright in the very centre, as all sorts of household utensils are inserted between the rafters and thatch, and overhead one or more shelves carry suspicious looking bundles containing the smoke-dried bones of deceased relatives. I was presented at my request with several of their conch shells, and in exchange for a long knife secured a well-made net used for pig-hunting. On our walk to the beach we noticed a large war canoe, made of an immense log of very buoyant timber, with the sides regularly built up of large planks of the same wood. The stem and stern were rudely ornamented with carvings and painted with red, white and black pigment, the only three colours in use among them. On one side of the canoe a log was attached as an outrigger, enabling the craft to live in a pretty heavy sea. As we had outstayed our appointed time, and there was a possibility of our own boat having returned without us, we determined to go back in this canoe, the native who had sold me the net agreeing to put us on board. Although wind and tide were both dead against us, we reached the ship safe and dry, though not without danger, the overloaded canoe leaking to such an extent as to keep a boy constantly bailing. After bath and luncheon we landed near the Mission Station on Stacey Island with our guns, and procured the services of two or three native boys to guide us up the peak, which is about 800 feet high. After a walk of half a mile along the beach we turned sharp up the precipitous side of the cliff, whose ascent was anything but easy. The formation is conglomerate, broken up into the most fantastic shapes, the roots of the trees interlacing with the stones, furnishing facilities for climbing the steep track. Bright plumaged parrots, satin birds, and New Guinea magpies flew about in numbers, and the tracks of wild pigs were everywhere visible. Our route lay up the bed of a stream almost dry at this season. In some places, however, the ascent was so steep that I was under the necessity of giving my gun to a little native boy, whose bare feet enabled him to negotiate the obstacles without the slipping and stumbling incurred by the heavily shod white man. About six hundred feet above the sea level we met a native woman carrying a heavy load of yams on her back in the usual net, secured by a band across her forehead, the weight thus being divided between her spine and her hips. A little higher we skirted the plantation where she had been working, the freshly disturbed earth indicating the spot whence the yams had been taken. Emerging from the thick undergrowth, we came upon a slope covered with coarse grass eight or nine feet high, and in places entirely concealing us from view. After passing another plantation where taro was cultivated and thriving, we came to a rocky place near the summit, and sat down for a rest and smoke. Eastward was another peak about a hundred feet higher, but a shower of rain coming on, we took shelter in a little thicket, and left the ascent of the highest point to some more energetic explorers. The rain soon passed over, and the dispersing clouds disclosed a wonderfully beautiful tropical panorama, forest, sea, and mountains being spread before us in endless variety. To our right,

Plate XXXI.


Reference page 68.

Black and white photograph of a village. In the foreground is a small, thatched tent-like, A-frame building. Two people sit outside the front entrance.
Mairi Pass and Catamaran Bay; and, far away in the distance, the waters of Milne Bay. Beneath our feet lay Bertha Lagoon, the Cloudy Mountains rising from its edge, and the hills of Farm Peak, Moudiri, and Debadeba, the country of the Cannibals, sharply outlined by the setting sun, stretched away to our left. To the southward we could plainly see the narrow neck of land, part of Stacey Island, which forms what is marked on the chart South Cape. It is in fact much narrower than indicated on the map, being in one place not more than a mile in width from beach to beach. The immediate foreground to the north consisted of the densely wooded slope we had just ascended, which hid our vessel and the mouth of the Lagoon from view. On our way back we bagged half a dozen different kinds of birds, but a beautiful black scrub pheasant we lost in the jungle, where even the sharp eyes of our native boys were at fault. We returned to the ship at 6 p.m., and early next morning I went ashore to attempt some photographs, as our departure was fixed for 11 a.m., and I was unwilling to leave this lovely locality without some views. Fortunately the wind had moderated, and I was able to get some very characteristic pictures, both of scenery and houses, with native groups. The people were most obliging, and did everything in their power to please us. There is little or no timber on Stacey Island available for building purposes, but at Bertha Lagoon all along its Eastern shores and close to the water's edge, we found quantities of red and white mangrove, and huge Malava trees, the latter not unlike the walnut-tree in shape and foliage. The country seemed

thickly populated, and up the rugged slopes of the Cloudy Mountains we saw many columns of smoke, indicating the presence of man. We visited some half dozen villages, rowing across the lagoon several times, and the day being warm drank sufficient cocoa-nut milk to float a ship. The huts, generally speaking, had an appearance of age, a sign in itself of peace prevailing among the various tribes. We got back to the ship at 10.30, and breakfasted before getting under way.

It appears that we have a rendezvous at Dinner Island with several men-of-war, to inquire into and possibly punish the murder of Captain(?) Fryer, at Hoop Iron Bay, Moresby Island. Leaving the Straits by the way we entered them, and passing Wedge Rock on the port side, we sighted Tassai, the village on Brumer Island. This group comprises one larger and one smaller island, with two or three lesser islets. To the south-east, when abreast of the passage between the two first mentioned of the Brumer group, Dumoulin Island, distant twenty-five miles, becomes visible due east, Castori and Arch Islands, about twenty miles away, are seen east-north-cast, and Heath Island, towards which we are heading, shows its high peak eighteen miles to the north-east. The double island named Leocadi, with the sea breaking over the connecting reef, is visible five miles off on the port quarter with its solitary lighthouse looking tree. Shaping our course through the inner passage between Heath Island and the mainland of New Guinea, and carefully navigating the strong tide-rips that run through it, we sighted Dinner Island at 2.20 and dropped anchor 200 yards from the beach half-an-hour later. We are now in China Straits, and the wonderful beauty of the island scenery surrounding us has not been overrated. Dinner Island itself is not more than 200 feet high at any point, but is a paradise of loveliness. To our right, in the south-west, tower the ranges of Heath Island, 1,000 feet high. Three or four miles in the opposite direction are the mountains of Hayter Island; towards the east the hill chains of Basilisk and Moresby Island loom in the hazy distance, and behind us towards the north the lofty ranges of the mainland, wooded from base to summit, rise abruptly from the shore. On reaching the anchorage at Dinner Island we found ourselves the first at the rendezvous. The Mission Boat came out to us bringing the unwelcome news of fresh outrages. It appears that Captain Miller, well known in Cooktown, had lately come to these parts and commenced trading in bêche-de-mer and copra. He had built a store and temporary dwelling on an islet called Koilao, separated from Heath Island by a channel, quarter of a mile wide and not three miles from Dinner Island. With some mates he established several trading stations among the islands of this Archipelego; as matters were apparently prospering he determined to build a better house on the Island of Digaragara, opposite Normanby Island, which contains plenty of timber suitable for the purpose. Accordingly he proceeded there in his cutter, taking with him as crew an Italian named Paolo Fidele, a Chinese cook, an Australian aboriginal and his gin, and a native named Bonita. The party, according to Paolo's account, were seated on the beach among a number of natives, talking matters over in a friendly way, when a Normanby islander, a boy returned from Queensland, came up behind and struck Miller a blow on the back of the neck with a tomahawk. Paolo saw the native coming, but too late to put Miller on his guard, and before he could interfere another native cut the unfortunate man's throat with a long knife. No general massacre was attempted, and Miller was just able to walk to the boat when he expired from loss of blood. Paolo states that he fired at the first aggressor but apparently without effect. The cutter then put off and made for Milne Bay, where Miller had a branch store, to warn a young Englishman named Cotterill and a Chinaman in charge of their danger. They brought Cotterill off with them, but the Chinaman could not be induced to leave. The cutter then proceeded to Dinner Island, where Miller's body was decently interred near the Mission Station, and the party being apprehensive that their lives were still in danger left on the morning of our arrival for Teste Island, where the natives are known to be friendly.

The "Diamond" not having yet arrived, the General decided to proceed next day to Teste Island to collect evidence for the identification and punishment of the murderers. We accordingly started at 7 a.m. on the 8th October, weather showery and cool, wind south-west and sea smooth. An hour later we passed Blanchard Island and noticed a small island near its eastern extremity, covered with beautiful grassy slopes and having a cocoa-nut grove at the end opposite Blanchard, while at its eastern extremity gigantic Casuarina trees reared their feathery branches against the sky. At 8.30 we passed Beehive Island, and sighted Bell Rock and Teste Island. Hayter and Moresby Islands were on our port side, with heavy clouds hanging on their mountain tops. At 9 o'clock we opened up the entrance to Fortescue Straits formed by Margaret and O'Neil Islands, and separating Basilisk from Moresby Island. We next passed Hoop Iron Bay, where Captain Fryer was so recently murdered. A cutter which we sighted and supposed to be the craft we were in pursuit of turned out, on closer acquaintance, to be a rock which bore a singular resemblance to a boat, the illusion being heightened by a solitary tree growing on its side, which looked from the distance like a flag. The name of this curious island is marked in the chart as "Foolscap Rock." Teste Island, with Bell Rock quarter point to the westward, lay seven miles ahead, and at 11 o'clock we dropped anchor midway between the land and a huge boulder called Boat Rock. The tides here are very strong, and the under current is so swift that a sinker weighing over two pounds attached to a fishing line would not fetch the bottom. On landing we found two cutters, belonging to the unfortunate Captains Miller and Fryer, the former of which had arrived the day previous with Paolo Fidele and the rest of the party. A neatly built house, with the Union Jack flying from a pole, stood near the beach, and I was surprised to find in the proprietor a young man named Kissack, a photographer, formerly owning a studio in Victoria Street, Hotham, a Melbourne suburb. He told me that the doctors advised him to give up photography as the worry connected with that profession was sure to kill him. So after a spell in a Queensland labour ship as Government Agent, he settled down on Teste Island as a trader, making a tolerably good living by entrusting trade articles to the Teste Island boys, who barter them in the Louisiade Islands and bring back cocoa nuts and bêche-de-mer in return for tobacco, pipes, and knives, the market quotations at that time being twenty-eight old cocoa-nuts for one stick of tobacco. By the time the fruit is husked, sliced and dried, and bagged, and the freight paid to Queensland, the profit has dwindled to a very modest sum, and I could not but reflect that with the risk thrown in of being murdered on the slightest provocation the traders deserve all they can make. Meantime the General had been pursuing his inquiries at the Mission House, the result being that Paolo Fidele and his mates are to return with their cutter to Dinner Island, proceed with us to the scene of the outrage and identify the perpetrators if possible.

Plate XXXII.


Reference page 68.

Black and white photograph of a village