Confronting Reprisals

Although these shocking atrocities are occasionally taking place in the South Seas, they are not altogether attributed to the natural propensity of the natives. Mau had for many years been traded with by Europeans, and it was not until a succession of outrages had been perpetrated on the Mau islanders that they retaliated.

The wind having shifted to the S.W and the landing of our passengers at Erromanga being accomplished, we squared away for Sandwich, and arrived at the mouth of Havana Harbour on the 15th, after a passage from Erromanga of two days and tow nights, during a great portion of which we were becalmed. One night in this passage we experienced such a strong westerly current that, even although the vessel had a breeze, it made a difference of four points in our course from the time we left Erromanga until we sighted Sandwich, whereby we found ourselves thirty miles to leeward of where we laid our course for.

Having only one passenger for the Sandwich, he was put in a boat at the mouth of the Havana Harbour, and conveyed to his village in due course; this was a lad named Pluto, who had been well paid in Queensland, for he bought more luggage than any other returned Polynesian by the vessel. The boat returned after an absence of a few hours, when we proceeded on our voyage.

Sandwich is an island some fifteen or twenty miles broad, and thirty miles long; it is mountainous, and can scarcely be called hilly. On the western coast which we passed, it has some high land sloping gradually to the coast. We saw some fine country adaptable for the plough; its soil well reputed for richness. There are a number of pyramidal islands to the north of it, but all of them too rugged in their features for agriculture; nevertheless their soil is of the richest character, as testified by the yams and fruits produced thereon. There are many of these islands throughout the New Hebrides, and a very good evidence of their prolific character is testified in the circumstances of their containing large populations proportionate to their size, cultivating patches, from which they procure supplies for their wants in abundance. Were these same spots developed by a persevering race, who would terrace the steep hill sides, the commercial developments possible would exceed the power of calculations. The Polynesian islands throughout possess latent possibilities that are incalculable; especially for the growth of sugar cane.

Shaping our course from Sandwich, the next island to call at was Mau, one of the archipelago of islands to the north of Sandwich, where we arrived on the morning of the 16th of March, when we landed six returning natives who we had bought back with us. This island has risen into notoriety from the circumstances of two vessels, having been seized there within a few months of each other, some four years ago, when all the white men and their crews were massacred; one was the brig Curlew, of Sydney, the second a Fiji trader schooner. Both vessels were plundered of their trade, and then run ashore and burnt. The case of the Fiji schooner was as revolting as it was distressing, from the inhuman treatment which the captain’s wife received. It was not until she had been kept by the savages for ten days, and most atrociously abused throughout that time, that she was tomahawked, after enduring through that period of the most inconceivable of horrors. The wrecks of both the vessels are on the beach; the sight of them, coupled with their history, is extremely gloomy. Although these shocking atrocities are occasionally taking place in the South Seas, they are not altogether attributed to the natural propensity of the natives. Mau had for many years been traded with by Europeans, and it was not until a succession of outrages had been perpetrated on the Mau islanders that they retaliated with all the barbarity that their savage nature could dictate. It has been a very common occurrence for the crews of some vessels, when they land upon an island, to commit violence upon the wives of the islanders. In many cases they succeed and in their outrages it is not unusual for them to kill several of the women’s defenders. If their violence prevails, some inoffensive traders that may afterwards visit the place may reap a harvest of retaliation, which may induce reprisals of startling vengeance. South Sea Island legends relate the visit of a British man-o’-war to Mau to administer correction for some of the unavenged atrocities. The natives on the landing of the blue-jackets vanished within an intense jungle and they yelled defiance. John Bull, not to be beaten, recalled the boats, distributed a few shells in the scrub, and sailed away, to the amusement of the men of Mau, who collected the unexploded shells on the open beach, and with their songs of triumph, initiated a war dance, so that gathering round they tossed shells about in wild derision. In so doing they so applied the laws of friction and concussion as to operate upon the fuse, that as a result an extensive subdivision of their physical membership ensued; mens heads, arms, and legs were scattered over the beach. The survivors place in possession of such a key of knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon obtained an implantation of prudence which reacted for their own preservation as well as that of subsequent traders who visited them.

What a mighty destiny is that of the Anglo-Saxon. “These white men make chips talk,” said a savage when he was the bearer of a message upon a chip which Williams sent to his wife, from whom the savage received the implementation written for on the chip. Verily in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed in security of free trade and international industries. Since the above mentioned outrages took place other traders have visited the island, landed amongst them, and traded without molestation. The returned islanders we bought back were quiet, industrious, and well-conducted lot, but unfortunately would not present a very flattering testimonial of Queensland treatment towards them. The condition in which they landed was a disgrace to the colony. The poor fellows had nothing but some ragged blankets, and some second hand clothes; two of them had a musket, and the remainder tomahawks. These men completed their terms of service in Queensland. So soon as they were landed their fellow countrymen – who had come on the beach to meet them – fired some shots after the boat, which had fortunately got out of range; and, although they aimed wide of the boat, their firing was obviously a token of displeasure at Queensland, as they viewed the effects of which their countrymen bought back with manifest disapprobation.