Aoba Chief Gives Signal to Attack

On the morning of the 18th, accordingly, the boat was manned in charge of the mate, the crew consisting of Alexander Bruce (a seaman), Bob (a native of Valua), Missifoo, Tomlangau, and another (three natives of Apie.) Aoba natives made a smoke on the beach, the usual reliable signal of a desire to trade, and for this smoke the boat pulled in.

As she approached the shore no hostile indications were manifested by the Aoba natives, but on the contrary, they waved green boughs, the emblem of peace, and exhibited yams on the beach, professing to have them for trade. Awaiting the boats’ anchoring, to gain the confidence of the mate, who had already opened his trade box and was attempting to barter for yams, the islanders then commenced to surround him in a hostile array, upwards of a hundred spearmen and bowmen crowding the rocks, at the same time one of them seized the tomahawk, the Aoba chief gave a signal for attack, when a shower of arrows and spears fell amongst the boats’ crew, giving the mate a severe arrow wound in his under eyelid, sending another into the fleshy part of his shoulder, and slightly wounding him in several other parts of his body with the points of arrows. Alex. Bruce was struck just above the bridge of the nose by an arrow, but it glanced off without penetrating; he however, was struck by a spear, which entered obliquely into the right side of his chest to a depth of ten inches.

Tomlangua, the Apie man, was hit in the back, by the side of his spine, by an arrow which broke off, leaving two inches in him. Bob, the Valua man, was hit in the leg and thigh by arrows which he immediately extracted; they penetrated to no extent under his skin. Missifoo, an Apie native, hereupon picked up his musket, and firing amongst the natives, felled two of them, which threw the attacking party into disorder, and enabled the boat to retreat to the ship, where the wounded men were treated by DR Gumption – DR Gumption was an eminent medical man, who, suffering from a stress of over work, was with us on a voyage of recuperation.

As the boat came alongside the ship, Captain Helmsman was the first to grasp the situation. After evidencing the depths of his sympathies for those of his crew who a few hours ago were rejoicing in their vitality, he says to those around him, “Well gentlemen, if you want to get back to Australia you will have to turn sailors”. There was some ground for observation, in that fact, though some of her crew absconding when we were on the eve of sailing, the Petrel went to sea considerably undermanned, whereby we had found ourselves on board a large brigantine with a crew consisting of captain, mate, and three seamen, with a cook, who likewise acted in the capacity of a steward. Captain Helmsman sees the fact very impressively that he has but two sailors to take the ship back; one of these, suffering from the after effects of fever and ague with unpleasant frequency, is subject to intermittent attacks every few days.

Under the circumstances that Mr. Scupper had been “dragged up” instead of “brought up” and acquired a seeming condition of wrought iron, expected everyone else to be of the same caliber. At eight years of age he was an orphan, and sent to sea. At the outset of his first voyage the ship is stranded on a lee shore, where he has a protracted period in the rigging, in company with another survivor, the only ones who saved their lives. Continuing his nautical career in long voyages to Africa, the Indies, and China, upon the nourishment of salt junk, until he becomes seemingly impervious to all physical weaknesses, and acquiring some attainments in ship carpentry, he avails himself of the capacity and finds within himself for building stockyards and woolsheds in the pastoral regions of Australia, wither he conducts a bride, whose attractions, when he was second mate of an emigrant ship, decided him to forsake the sea and follow station life, at which in those days the hardworking rough carpenter could earn good wages. Ere that twelve months elapse he buries his bride, another victim to the extension of civilization, to the absence of medical attention, bringing what might have proved a useful and ornamental life to a tragic close. “And behold the tears of the oppressed, and they have no comforter.” Ecclesiastes iv.,1.

Mr. Scupper resumes the seas, and in the South Sea Island adventure has just as much sympathy and compassion for the ague-smitten Joe Clewline as Mammon had displayed upon the death of his wife, His great gospel was to endure what comes. Subsequent events impressed me with the remembrance of a conversation I had had with him respecting this ague-smitten sailor, on whose behalf I sought to awaken his sympathy and an alleviation of conditions, resulting in no other consequence than the mate denouncing him as a crawler, for whom he would have great pleasure in making a suit of clothes, which meant he would sew him up in his hammock and pitch him overboard. There are often true words spoken in a grim joke, which fall down upon the pate of those how offer the, Mr. Scupper little dreamt what the next few days would eventuate.

This observation of Mr. Scupper was not attributed to any brutality of disposition, his wrought iron experience had blunted all his finer elements. He often told of a captain under whom he had sailed in the coast of Africa, who, on approaching Liverpool, would call for a washing bowl to be placed on the capstan-head, after having piped all hands to witness the washing off of his “coast of Guinea face”, and similarly, on the outward bound departure, when the pilot had left the ship, he would enact the same performance, saying, “I have washed off my Liverpool face,” or in other words, he was not going to be scrupulous with the natives, and his crew must do his work and keep their mouths shut. With such training for the South Sea Island trade, in which Mr. Scupper expended some years, the practice attendant upon sandal-wooding and other transactions with islanders did not come altogether unfamiliar, but in justice to him it must be acknowledged that he never shirked from the performance of duty, and denounced with vehemence against the violent outrages that had been perpetuated by traders upon Polynesians.

There can be no doubt of the Aoba natives having concerted to decoy the boat and massacre the crew; they nearly succeeded in doing so, and probably would have effected their purpose had it not been that the Apie men were not satisfied with their appearance; they pretended friendliness to the Apie men, who stepped ashore when the boat first landed, and offered them coconuts if they would climb the tree for them, but Missifoo was suspicious, and not liking the attempted trap, kept more guard, hence his returning to the boat in case of a fight. It was very evident also that the white men were the chief objects of vengeance, as the first shots they fired were arrows at the eyes of both the mate and Alex. Bruce. If bravery and manliness would cure anyone of their wounds, Bruce would soon have been restored, for with the spear in his side he steered the boat off to the vessel and directed a retreat. The spear-head which lodged in him proved a bone one, jagged; it was a human bone, and we find it quite common through the New Hebrides for the natives to take the bones out of human bodies to make their spear and arrow heads.

The wind set in very strong from the south-east shortly after the encounter, and we were presented for two days from resuming out voyage to Espiritu Santo. We accordingly put the ship under easy sail and stretched backwards and forwards under the lee of Aoba, which gave a very good opportunity of reconnoitering the island with a spy-glass, not without great surprise at observing the cannibals of Aoba display far more intelligence and industry than the peaceable inhabitants of the Banks’ Group. At Aoba the hill sides are cultivated in a style that would not discredit Europeans; their yam patches and cocoanut groves are laid out with a chess-board regularity, and are very well cultivated. They have fishing weirs along the coast, and from the number of fires visible on the shores at night, pursue the occupation of fishing very industriously.

After a passage alternating with storms and calms, we reached our intended anchorage at Espiritu Santo on the 23rd April. This was abreast of where we had landed the returned natives who came down as passengers with us. These all came on board before we had been twenty-four hours at anchor, expressing themselves very glad to see us again, and telling us there would be plenty of Santo men emigrate with us to Queensland, or, in their own words, “go along a ship.” The anchorage we reached is abreast of the mission station; it is a fine bay in any weather blowing from south-east round to north-east. Atmospheric conditions had settled into steady easterly weather, and the have was doubly welcome, for in addition to our disabled hands, one of our seamen was occasionally laid up with fever-and-augue, leaving the working of the ship to the captain and another seaman. Fortunately we had some natives on board who could go aloft and otherwise be useful, still the wounded men wanted every attention, so it was very desirable to get into smooth water, where their wounds would not be irritated by the vessel’s motion.

During these few days ominous clouds threatening the future navigation of our ship, verified the experience of those who go down to the sea in ships: “They mount up to heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble.” The sea is the fountain of all manifested life. Rain and dew are evaporated by the creative sun to accomplish their circuit; in like manner what we consider “disaster” are but the waves of evolution wafting onward, and it more than often happens that whatever disaster may threaten, could we but see the guiding hand, there is a way out; while a man reels to and fro with anxieties, staggering like a drunkard, and at his wit’s end. Could we but see our way back to Australia?

I found Captain Helmsman very hopeful, but still there was the staggering fact of a large ship with only two hands, one of whom was frequently helpless, to take her back to Australia. In extremities so severe it is very galling to be surrounded either with those who do not realize the situation, or by others recommending alternatives which are utterly impossible. Under these circumstances, I would say all I could to encourage the captain; being upon a sperm whaling ground, I ventured the observation that we might probably speak some whaler, from whom we might possibly obtain one or two hands. This, however, we did but cherish as a last alternative, for we had already began to operate upon the tactics that “Heaven helps those who help themselves,” and commenced to teach some of the Polynesians to steer as well as to go aloft. Occasionally through the day we would have strong breezes, but generally in the evenings and mornings bright sunshine and light breeze seemed to verify the fact that we were sailing for the great south Pacific Ocean.

In my geographical studies at school the map of the Southern Hemisphere seemed to present a charm in the word South Pacific, a reality which now I was gazing upon with mingled impressions of severe awfulness in looking out upon the blue expanse with all its sublime grandeur. “So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts” – the sea with its decree, the great ocean of universal life. The one life eternal, invisible, yet omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations, having one absolute attribute, which itself is the eternal ceaseless motion in the great breath, the perpetual motion of the Universe, in the sense of limitless, ever-present space.

“So on a narrow deck of land,
Twixt two unbounded seas I stand
Secure, insensible.
A point of time, a moment’s space
Removes me to that heavenly place
Or shuts me up in Hell.”

We had, through unexpected gales and currents, already been nearly shut up at Erromanga and at Espiritu Santo. What is our future? Verily we sail upon an ocean of uncertainty in life’s problems attendant upon our incarnation in matter. With these aspects we cast anchor at Espiritu Santo.

The anchorage we had reached at Espiritu Santo is an indent or sheltered bay, where the London Missionary Society has a mission station, but we found that the missionary was in Sydney, and not expected back for a month. The mission house, very advantageously situated, is a commodious dwelling, 30 by 30, of sawn deal, with a thatched roof; it has a romantic landscape in front, commanding a view of the ocean and the bold headlands of the bay. A dense scrub surrounds the precincts of the abode, and nature reigns around with all its primitive charms. However picturesque its position, it would to most men appear a gloomy solitude; and it is from a visit to a locality of this, description that an idea is arrived at of the self-denial required in the life of a missionary.

We heard many scandalous misrepresentations – that the missionaries were unscrupulous in influencing their converts against the trader. With such reports in the air the reconnoiter of this mission house, as an illustration of an average example, points with unmistakable significance of the awful solitude and isolation of the sons of mind within the environments of cannibalism in the endeavor to fan the seeding spark therein into a flame. The missionary may be regarded as the son of mind, who, for the work he undertakes, cuts himself off from kindred and friends to labor amongst the species of a dark understanding; and yet the tongue of scandal cannot be quiet in regard to these men, of whom it is said by some that they follow the occupation for the life of ease. Any man, who after being trained in civilization, prefers to live amongst savages as a sinecure, or for pastime, would be beneath his species. Others say that they go down to the Islands to trade and attain opulence in so doing. No greater libel upon them could be uttered.

Our experience has been that whoever gets the natives to work for them for nothing will be very clever indeed. It is possibly quite true that the missionary ships carry home coconut oil and fibre, but instead of being trade of the missionaries, it will be found that the natives themselves, as they become civilized, are taught that by manufacture of these commodities they can exchange them for agricultural implements and other articles in hardware, of which they learn the use and want of, as well as clothing. It is also said that the missionaries use their influence to prevent their native converts emigrating, and teach them to extort from the trader, so that they themselves will not lose their services. This statement carries contradictions on the face of it, for did they, for such reasons, teach the natives to over estimate their own value, would they naturally turn around upon the missionaries, and apply the lessons to themselves? “Rejoice, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”