Friendly and Peaceful Inhabitants

Ureparapara is the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu, after Gaua and Vanua Lava. The climate on the island is humid tropical. The average annual rainfall exceeds 4000 mm. Ureparapara is subject to frequent earthquakes and cyclones.

We arrived at Uruparapara on the 2nd April, after two very tedious days passage, in which we were exposed to heavy rains, calms, and an unpleasant ground swell, so that we were very glad to reach anchorage in the harbor of Uruparapara about noon, a matter of considerable congratulations to us for our anchor was scarcely down, and sails stowed, before a southerly gale, which had been threatening for three days, burst over, and from which we were snugly sheltered. It may be worthy of remark, that while we experienced through these days, calms and saw around us threatening weather, which passed over in squalls, the Fijis and New Zealand were visited by a very destructive cyclone. This we ascertained on our return to Australia, but the comparison of dates in our own journal confirm the fact that at the distance of 500 miles, we were on the outside of great atmospheric disturbances. Scarcely had I ever seen the weather prospects more threatening and unpromising. A pall of leaden gloom seemed to hang around, while in the distance could be observed some immense water spouts; these phenomena, to a student of the law of storms and physical geography, carry with them an attractive interest. The weather looked more threatening to us than at any other period of the voyage, so much so that on the 2nd of April, outside Uruparapara it seemed if a heavy blow would soon be upon us, that our small sails were all taken in, and we fully awaited the burst of the tempest.

The harbor of Uruparapara is a very snug one, although with so narrow an entrance that a vessel has some difficulty in getting in or out without a leading wind. This island is a ring of high volcanic hills, with very steep declivities on each side. There is an aperture to the north-east, which is the mouth of the harbour, a long basin in which there are no soundings until reaching the head of the bight. We lay in this harbor for three days replenishing wood and water for our homeward passage, and during that time experienced the greatest heat we met through the voyage, the hills being so high, and enclosing a basin as they did, made us feel as if were were in a description of stew pan. The vegetation is very dense, which increases the power of the suns rays.

We found the inhabitant very friendly and peaceable, having a childlike simplicity, coming off to us in swarms. They find some very fine slopes on their mountain sides which produce them an abundance of yams and fruits; and being able to catch plenty of fish their wants are liberally supplied by nature, with assistance of but little art, for the soil is so rich that seed planted therein yields in abundance. Although the passengers we brought down for this island brought plenty of luggage and other valuables, as the fruit of three years labor, yet none of their countrymen could be persuaded to emigrate with us to Queensland, notwithstanding that some twenty of them, when they first visited the vessel, expressed their intention to accompany us.

We learned that some Fiji vessels had been amongst them, and several of their countrymen had embarked with implicit confidence, wherein the captain of the Fiji vessel had given them a written guarantee to return their countrymen within two years. These they took upon with unreserved reliance and good faith. In other cases boats crews had landed armed men, proceeded to their camps, and marched off with men and women, nolenvolens. In the former case the written guarantee, although a mere farce was the subterfuge of a politic trader who sought to retain their confidence as long as possible. We certainly should have procured some recruits had the chiefs and relatives of the intended emigrants not prohibited their departure. As we were sailing out of the harbor we saw the beach on its northern side lined with armed men, doubtless to prevent an exodus of their tribes, or it may be possible to contest matters with our boat had it attempted to carry them off. Our acquaintance thus far in Polynesia already opens out many aspects displaying facts that open interesting subjects of elucidation.

One question arises – Why should the natives of Erromanga and Tanna exhibit such untameable and destructive tendancies while the native of Amota, Vanua Lava and Uruparapara were so amiable and child-like? Is it more than a coincidence that the natives of Ambrym, an island with an active volcano, resembled in ferocity the natives of Tanna, which is likewise belching forth its volumes of fire and brimstone?

Leaving Uruparapara on the 5th of April, we reached the island of Valua on the 7th; the weather was too unsettled to anchor at it, as all its anchorages are exposed and only safe in settled weather. We spent a week in cruising off the island and sending the boat on shore; it was in the locality accordingly that we passed our Good Friday and Easter. During these days we experienced every kind of weather – calms, squalls, heavy tropical rains and intense heat – beside which exceedingly strong currents that would carry us miles away from the land during the night, and take a good part of the succeeding day to recover. We however, succeeded in procuring fifteen recruits and should doubtless have obtained more had the weather been more conducive for the boat following up her visits to the shore. We sighted a cutter standing in under the western side of Valua on the 6th instant, at which time we were under the south-east side of the island.

As our boat proceeded round the island a few days afterwards, dismal complaints were poured forth from many of the tribes against the outrages of the crew of the cutter, a Fiji cruiser, had committed amongst them. In one camp they had, by armed men, carried away thirteen natives – amongst others the chief’s wife, leaving her husband quite inconsolable. These Fiji rascals, it will be seen, adopt every possible contrivance to obtain islanders: the most glaring we heard of was the case of a steamer, manned by them, going through the islands, and giving out that they were recruiting for Queensland.

On the 11th of April, the weather being very dirty and squally from N.E. we bore up from under Valua, and ran under a small island called Rovinia, outside the mouth of Port Patterson, where we anchored. We remained there for three days, and procured three recruits for Queensland; the weather in the interval cleared up. On the 13th we weighed anchor and shaped our course for the southward – our homeward route. Our boat went ashore at Amota, the island of Port Patterson, where the missionaries have located a native teacher, but no recruits were procurable here. The natives were remarkably friendly, but kept their women and children away until they were satisified we were not Fiji marauders, some of whom, they informed us, had visited their island and forcibly abducted a number of thier women. Those Fiji traders, before British annexation, were no better than pirates, and were proving a scrouge to the South Seas.

The islanders of the Banks’ Group, although at present very peaceable, are not unlikely to become aroused and practice retaliation upon some honest trader. On islands where the natives are more warlike buccaneers have already aroused such a spirit of revenge that it is not safe for any boat to approach their shores unless she carries some of the same islanders who have accompanied the vessel. They are proving the bane of all missionary work, the first endeavour of which is to teach the natives to desist from fighting; these teachings are often followed by acts of violence on the part of a European shortly afterwards.

On April 16 we were off the Island of Meralaba, a pyramidical island some 1500 feet high, with a base of four or five miles diameter at the sea level; the sides are one unbroken slope from the summit to the sea, excepting an occaisonal bank along the shore. On these hill sides the natives plant their yams and fruit, and produce what they require. Our boat was communicating with shore throughout the day, whilst the vessel was standing off and on, but thoroughly unsuccessful in obtaining any recruits, the chiefs manifesting a decided objection to any of their subjects emigrating, and to enforce their decree, posted detatched bodies of spearmen and bowmen to prevent their escape. Had it not been for this the vessel would have obtained a considerable number here as many were willing to emigrate. The islanders manifested no unfriendly symptoms towards the boat, but on the contrary, they were very ready to trade their bread-fruit and yams; they were, however, far more warlike than the Valua or Vanua Lava natives. Had the boat attempted to carry off any of those who wanted to emigrate, an attack would have been made on the crew without any ceremony, a contingency evidently contemplated, for in whatever place the boat landed it was remarked that the armed natives were so positioned that in case of a contest she would be under a cross fire of spears and arrows. Many of the residents spoke fair English, having been at Tanna, New Caledonia, and Fiji, at which places they complained very loudly that they had been shamefully paid. This, in a great measure, may explain the determination they displayed against any of their countrymen going aboard in the service of any white man.

As the prospects were not sufficiently inviting to remain longer off this island, the vessel, in the evening, continued her course. Espiritu Santo was the next island we intended to call at, but the wind keeping light throughout the 17th, we did not make further abreast of Aoba on the evening of that day- an island represented by Mr Scupper as a very advantageous one (on a previous voyage when he was down in these parts) for obtaining supplies of yams, so that it was contemplated on the morrow to replenish the ships’s stock of this article, if they could be obtained by trading with the shore.