Appointments for a Cannibal Feast

Leaving Apie on the 21st, we sighted Espiritu Santo at 7 a.m. on the 22 March, having passed to the westward of Malicolo, a large island fifty miles long. At 2p.m. we were close in to Espiritu Santo, and proceeded with the disembarkation of our eight passengers for that island, which was effected by 5 p.m. when the boat was hoisted in.

The returned islanders went on shore well pleased with the vessel, and landed amongst their countrymen with well-filled trunks, as well as muskets and other sundries, that will tend to put Queensland in high repute amongst other tribes. We landed them under a sheltered point at the S.W end of the island in the vicinity of Cape Lisburne. We had the wind W.S.W. from which quarter it had been blowing hard, and we observed a heavy surf under our lee; still the wind kept steady in the early part of the afternoon that there appeared no hazard in laying on and off the boat; but, contrary to our expectations, if fell lighter, almost to a calm, and we saw ourselves, while attempting to fetch clear of the land, drifting upon the breakers near Cape Lisburne. A heavy ground swell from the S.W. contributed to our discomfort, which continued increasing until we were within a few cables lengths from the breakers.

This is the island Santo, so called; the veritable abode of that same cannibal denizen ( he had been landed just a few hours previous to our present adventure) who upon the ship getting outside Port Mackay had seemingly tested my conditions for the baking ovens, with anticipated relish. To anyone of a superstitious turn of mind the remembrance of the incident, coupled with the present environments, would not be very encouraging, seeing that beyond the surf would doubtless be found available all the cannibal appointments for a good feast. Aware of the possibilities of being dished up in this fashion within a few hours, the idea of cremation would certainly seem preferable to our present condition of drifting on to the breakers with an unpleasant doubt whether they would drown our present incarnation, or we should escape drowning for a worse fate.

“This is a bad job, it is a case with us now,” says Captain Helmsman, who has gone to the wheel with his master hand to avail any catspaw of wind that will keep steerage way on the ship. “Not yet,” said I, scarcely knowing why I was justified in saying so, but there are extremities wherein man finds himself, as to his own seedling spark of the eternal mind, the inner man compounded with the one universal life, knows, wills, dares and keeps silent. Verily in God we live and move and have our being, and so the Master of Humanity says to the elements “Peace be still”, and why should not Captain Helmsman, myself, and all on board, invoke the same focus to move the elements to educe peace in a favorable breeze? With all the coolness and intrepidity of a British sailor, Captain Helmsman gives the command to clear the anchor and get a long range of cable, at the same time we let down the ship’s centre board, the breakers under our lee showing through the darkness which had now set in, and displaying their proximity. But as man’s extremity in God’s opportunity, just as we were coming within sound of the breakers our ears catch the atmospheric vibration wafting from the land, which freshened into a breeze, and in half-an-hour we were clear of danger, with abundant gratitude to Him who holds the winds and the waves in the hollow of His hand. Verily, man is in the hand of a Master – the Master of Humanity. “They that go down to the seas in ships, that do business in great waters. These see the works of the Master and His wonders in the deep.

I had not had the experience of witnessing any cannibal performances, but had gathered some idea of the ceremony by an unwelcome proximity to the convivial exuberance of a reunion of friends which occurred one night while we were anchored at the Three Hills, at which place some residents becoming aware of the presence among our passengers of a few tribal friends belonging to an adjacent island, instituted a feast in their honor by bringing on board a roasted pig. With an abundance of concomitant bread fruit manufactured into a luscious sauce, and a corresponding supply of yams, which when distributed bestowed about 28lbs. avoirdupois to each brother, who was supposed to incorporate the quantum within his physical receptacle: in the accomplishment of this feat the savages exercise primitive medical law in the use of emetics, for, so soon as the attractive feast is spread before them, they commence to gorge until they become as tight as drums, then by the insertion of their two fingers down their gullet they realise an upheaval, whereby their stomach capacity becomes “Empty swept and garnished”, and prepared for re-occupation by seven other devils of gluttony, by no means conducive to their mental developments. From being the subjective object of a cannibal feast, conducted on such lines, the breeze had proved a merciful deliverance.

Having obtained a good offing during the night from Espiritu Santo and finding the wind well from the westward, we shaped our course through Bougainville Straits for the next island of our destination, Vanua Lava, one of the Banks Group. With a steady breeze we ran through the strait between Espiritu Santo and Malicolo, both of which have every appearance of possessing many natural advantages. Espiritu Santo is very mountainous in some places, but in other parts it falls in undulating slopes to the sea. Northern Malicolo has a very flat and low-lying appearance; towards its southern end it is more hilly. Having run out of Bouganville Straits we sighted Aoba, a high island lying about twenty miles to the north-east of the strait. Each of these islands is but partially accessible to European traders; in Malicolo the natives are extremely savage and most notoriously addicted to cannibalism; the saying of them is – “that they eat you without taking the trouble to kill you” – an exaggerated reputation they have earned for themselves through their ferocity.

We arrived at Vanua Lava and anchored in Port Patterson on the 15th March, after being becalmed on the passage the greater part of two very hot days. Vanua Lava is an exceedingly hilly island of marked volcanic features. At the present time are to be seen in parts of it active volcanic features, as well as warm springs. We found its vegetation, soil and other physical features identical in character with the islands of the New Hebrides. Port Patterson is a fine sheltered harbour, several islands being at the mouth of it, so that it is completely land-locked at the southern end of the bay, which is the best part of to anchor in, as a roll generally sets in to the southern end. The natives of the island are a very peaceable race, exhibiting not the least indication of hostility, carrying no weapons, proceeding hither and thither with scarcely a vestige of clothing upon them. Bishop Patterson, of New Zealand, pays periodic visits to this place, and is held in high estimation by the natives. We learn that he has established a mission station at the small island called Amota, near the mouth of Port Patterson, where a native teacher resides.

Shortly after our visit to these parts, Bishop Patterson was massacred at the Solomon Islands. Like Williams, attempting the regeneration of Erromanga, he had been encouraged by the amiability of the local islanders, but realised to his cost that those afar off required, as with the islanders of Mau, an appropriate key of knowledge to open their understanding.

We lay in Port Patterson for three days, experiencing it to be a very welcome haven, for we had scarcely got in before boisterous weather came in from the eastward, accompanied with rain – very undesirable weather for cruising in this locality, where islands, islets, rocks and hidden reefs stud the ocean at intervals of from five to thirty miles. During our stay the natives abandoned all their suspicions, visiting the vessel in their canoes and even swimming off to us. We brought down seven islanders of Vanua Lava, each of whom had a well-filled trunk and would doubtless give the ship a good character, if there was any sincerity in their promises so to do before arrival here. In this place we observed a striking peculiarity not observed at other places at which we called, in their remarkable undemonstrative demeanor amongst themselves where they have been separated for some time. We had scarcely let go our anchor when a canoe came alongside with a native – a relative or intimate friend of one of our passengers who had not seen each other for three years. They merely seated themselves opposite one another without exhibiting any symptoms of recognition. A more noticeable instance occurred when one of our returned passengers met his mother after a similar absence of three years. They both sat down near each other, without exchanging a word. A dog the man had brought down flew at the poor old woman, but her son scarcely aroused himself to call it back. These instances are the more remarkable from the circumstance that on board the vessel, and with their employers, these men were great favorites for the warmth of feeling, as well as the faithfulness displayed.

We sailed from Port Patterson on March 28, and after cruising under the western side of Valua, and sending word ashore we would return in a week to recruit amongst them, we squared away for Uruparapara, for which place we had five returned islanders. We arrived off the mouth of the harbor on the morning of the 29th, when we dispatched the boat with our passengers, and sent word we would call in again in a few days so as to give any natives thereat an opportunity to emigrate if they were desirous of doing so. We lay-to off the harbor until the boat returned, when we shaped our course for the Torres Islands, a which place the Captain contemplated endeavoring to recruit a number of natives, as they were favorably spoken of, and towards his object took a native of Vanua Lava as interpreter. We reached Ababah, the northern most of the Torres Group, during the night of the 29th March, and kept under easy sail till the following morning. At daylight on the morning of the 30th we saw numbers of natives running along shore, waving white objects to us which we thought denoted a desire to trade with us, this being a signal peculiar to these islands. The boat was accordingly despatched in due course from the vessel, but on her approaching, the natives retired, and although at several places along the shore attempts were made to communicate with them, it was only with one tribe that some of the natives were induced to come forward and accept presents of fish hooks &c; in every other attempt the islanders would hide themselves till the boat left the shore. This was in a great measure to be explained by their evident timidity, and the imperfect knowledge, if not complete ignorance, that our interpreters had of their language. The island seemed to be very little communicated with by traders; the residents appear perfectly inoffensive, having no weapons of any sort, excepting some pointed sticks which they seemed to use for fishing. It is possible some of the Fiji cruisers may have been kidnapping amongst them, and they were determined not to be taken off their guard by us. They understood nothing of the Vanua Lava language, so we could not explain our object in visiting them.

The Torres Islands are a chain of five islets, extending a distance of twenty miles; they consist of low lying land, but in some places hilly, although they do not present the marked evidence, like New Hebrides, of active volcanic agency in their formation. The vegetation along the north-western shore presented a stunted appearance compared with the luxuriant growth upon the southern island of the New Hebrides. We were unable to find an anchorage, the water being twenty-five fathoms within two cables length of the shore. The weather being exceedingly threatening we did not expend more time in visitiing other parts of the group, there being so little prospect of success in procuring recruits, but shaped our course for returning to Uruparapara, our visit to the Torres Group proved an utter failure.