Early in the seventies I received a letter announcing my appointment as an agent to proceed to the South Seas, as a response to having placed myself in communication with the Government for such service, in consequence of a lull of my profession as a surveyor having threatened a few months inactivity which I was desirous of obviating by finding some congenial occupation for the interval.
Acting accordingly on my instructions with all possible expedition I reached Port Mackay, where in due time I welcomed the fluttering of the “blue Peter” at the fore of the Petral, announcing that on that day she was outward bound for the habitat of the Kanaka, a region wherein I am greatly interested, through following in my early readings the voyages of Captain Cook, and the illustrious missionary enterprises of John Williams; so that being an ardent geographer, the opportunity proved exceedingly welcome for the accomplishment of a long cherished desire to travel through those interesting regions.
The Petral happens to have been built at very familiar ship-building yards, treasured in my memory, at Battery Point, Hobart; and it is not unlikely that I saw the timber growing in the Tasmanian forests of which she is representative. I accept the incident not only as a good omen but as a charm that she is an ark of guaranteed safety, under the circumstances that the first chapter of my own destiny opened in Hobart where she was built. Her appearance as an exquisite model confirms the supposition, implied in her name, that she is a splendid “stormbird” her raking spars and trim rigging calling to mind the folded wings of a powerful bird.
Looking back upon the episode of my embarkation from Mackay I recognize it as a state of progress in the destiny of life, seeing that I am at present a fellow-habitator in Queensland with extensive sprinkling of Polynesians, in whose aboriginal dominions my early interest was very powerfully aroused. The preexistence of the Lemurian Continent and the enshrouded history thereof, stimulates the feeling of wonder regarding the ground whereon we stand.
Since making that voyage I have, in the path of destiny, followed the tracks of Burke and Wills (link to creative feature) and seen the spot where the intrepid Burke relinquished the further use of his earthly tabernacle; so that in taking within my mind’s eye such a scope of the Southern Hemisphere comprising of the continent of Australia and the Islands of Polynesia, great as may be the area, geological evidence seems to be dawning that the islands are but the mountain tops of a great submerged continent, while the similarity of animal and vegetable found in Australia and South America indicates greater immensity’s in the stretch of an immense continent beneath the surges of the South Pacific Ocean.
Reviewing these impressions we realize the great fact of our Australian colonization, and that the colonization of tribes over the earth’s surface, from time immemorial, does but present one phase of the decay, death and resurrection of nations. From this point of view Polynesia and the Polynesians, as well as the appearance of the Anglo-Saxon race upon the scene, become an attractive subject – in the consideration of our own identity – as well as that of the Polynesian – who to us may from as interesting a being as even the Hebrew, whose presence amongst us, with an unquestionable history extending over thousands of years, is a living witness to God in history. The questions arise – Who are we? and who are the Polynesians? Even although our identity through the past cannot be so legibly traced by the hands of the historian as the Hebrew, yet it is one other record quite as undeniable in the law of destiny that whosoever we may be, we are reaping that which has been sown in the past; and these records, although not written upon library pages, may be read and traced with unfaltering accuracy in the observance of every day facts and traits which lead up to them.
Such being the impressions that follow a meditation of the subject, a visit to the Polynesian in his own habitat will aid in the illustration in a cruise amongst the Polynesian Islands. The Polynesian having become identified with Australian commerce as an industrial factor, involves a recognition of him that can neither be denied or resisted. For anyone that may be skeptical as to the desirability of introducing black labor into Queensland, a visit to Port Mackay sugar plantations will be very conducive to throw light upon the subject, providing it be admitted that it is desirable to develop the sugar-producing capabilities of the States. It cannot be denied that in many parts of Southern Queensland European labor can perform all plantation operations, and the price that sugar has hitherto realized will have covered the cost of such labor, but the case is very different in tropical Queensland, where the stifling atmosphere experienced in keeping the growing cane clean, and the prostrating effects of many descriptions of the work attendant upon the manufacture of sugar, can only be endured by such peculiar physical organizations that we find in the South Sea Islander. The European so differently developed, could not endure many hours of the tropical sun. The few hours a day that he could work, would aggregate so few days out of the month that his remuneration would be inadequate to his wants; or, on the other hand, if he were paid in full for the time he was unable to work through the heat, the rate of labor would so increase the cost of a ton of sugar as to place it in the market at a cost far beyond its current value; at the same time it must be remembered that although a sugar plantation requires many black laborers, yet a large proportion of Europeans are needed – ploughmen, carters, blacksmiths, carpenters, enginemen, etc, whereby sugar growing, even with black labor, is a very progressive policy compared with the land being locked up by squatters.
Take Port Mackay as an instance. Previously to A.D. 1870 the present site of all its surrounding plantations was a cattle station, with but one stockman within a radius of twelve miles; now there are hundreds of Europeans upon the various plantations within the same extent, and hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been put in circulation in forming of plantations, so by the time all the sugar growing country is bought into use there will be scope for many more thousands of skilled European workmen. Mackay itself has advanced from a few wool sheds, of which it originally consisted, as the shipping port of a few squatters, until it has become a thriving township with some thousands of inhabitants, entirely supported by the sugar enterprises around.
Such were the impressions naturally presenting themselves as but one phase o of the ‘Polynesian problem’ which may tritely be applied to our intercourse with Oceania. In the whaling and trading enterprises of past years, through the South Seas, the Kanaka has become and inevitable factor. The question now arises – “What are our duties towards him?” As the law of prevention of cruelty to animals protects the sheep out of which our wool trade grows, surely so it applies to a section of humanity. Even if — overlapped Canaanites, doomed to extinction – the man, better than the sheep, claims humanitarian use.
It is with these impressions I find myself on board the Petrel, which had been chartered to convey Polynesians (who had fulfilled their term of agreement) back to their respective islands, as well as to recruit return laborers from Polynesia, and set sail from Mackay (Queensland) early in the seventies with 105 natives belonging to various islands of the Loyalty, New Hebrides and Bank’s Groups. For several days previous Port Mackay represented some lively aspects from its being the temporary rendezvous of Kanakas awaiting embarkation; some coming down from the Northern ports, others from adjacent sheep and cattle stations, but the largest proportion from the he several sugar plantations in the vicinity of Port Mackay. Judging from the adoption and adaptation of civilised fashions, they evidently intended to make such a display of their experience to arouse the wonder of their less travelled relatives in Polynesia. Their hats were prominent objects of interest – one had a red band, another a white one; or bundled handkerchiefs, with printed pictures thereon, folded around the head, with a studious display of the pictures. There might also be seen wearing blue trousers and an infantry soldier’s red coat, set off with black chimney-pot hat and puggaree; in fact there was every imaginable device to realize the ludicrous and the grotesque.
Looking back upon the impressions that were thus recorded, suggests the remembrance of the witness of the stars of heaven – “In Thee shall the nations of the earth be blessed.”
The vessel being ready for sea, the charters assembled the returning Polynesians with their luggage alongside, when the immigration officer of Port Mackay saw them proceed on board. Shortly before noon on the 6th February, the vessel cast off from the wharf, in charge of the pilot, and after bringing up at the bar fro one tide, proceeded to the sea towards midnight. When daylight came we had fairly got out to sea. It affords the opportunity of mutual acquaintance and accordingly 105 Polynesians and 105 dogs (for each one is taking back a canine specimen), as well as the ship’s crew, upon the deck of a schooner, brings us into close relationship. One friend introduces himself and feels my arms and limbs, then smacking his lips asks how long before we reach Santo. I find he is a denizen of that cannibal island where we are to realize some startling experiences, which, if not of an enlightening character, will undeniably prove instructive.
On setting sail from the shore of Australia the weather was fine, with the wind steady from the E.S.E. a quarter from which it continued to blow without any favorable variation until the 2nd of March, by which time we were to the southward of New Caledonia, having experienced an average of fine weather, excepting on three occasions, when we had been under the necessity of close reefing. On the 5th of March we arrived at the island of Mare one of the Loyalty Group; for this island we had five passengers, as well as five more for the the neighboring island of Lifu. Reaching our first port of debarkation, we found disembarkation not unattended with difficulty, for although with the wind S.W. the northeastern shore, where we landed our passengers, was well sheltered, yet an easterly swell occasioned a heavy surf, so that the luggage was got on shore. Some of the Mare men had two trunks each, besides many other loose sundries; it took five hours to land in all. As we found no anchorage within half a mile of the shore, the vessel had to stand off and on while the boat was making her trips to and from the land. The island of Mare is not mountainous,
neither is it flat; it is of limestone formation and remarkable for a succession of very conspicuous mounds and knolls resembling, from a distance, the extensive foundations of castles, or a succession of forts; around the base of these may be seen coconut patches, while along the shore continuous groves of these are visible as the ship sails along. Such was the first aspect of what is now generally supposed to be the mountain tops of the submerged continent of which Australia formed a part. We are informed that the island is a very prolific one, where yams and fruits are procurable in abundance; but of its producing capabilities we were not privileged to act as judges, as the day of our arrival being the Sabbath the natives, on that day, would allow no inducements to persuade them to desecrate the day in trading; in fact it was with difficulty the canoe was allowed to assist the boat, but as our passengers were rejoining their friends, after an absence of three or four years, proved circumstances, it would seem sufficient to make an exception with them, although, on the other hand, they overlooked the fact that there was no anchorage for us to await the morrow; yet we cannot but look upon their conscientiousness as an error on the right side. Mare, as well as the adjoining island of Lifu, have long been stations of the London Missionary Society, proving an encouraging vineyard for moral cultivation. French missionaries are also located in some parts of them. Each society confines its operations to separate parts of the island. The north-eastern side of Mare, where we called, is the scene of the labors of the the London Missionary Society’s agents. Both our Mare and Lifu passengers could read the Testament in their own language, an exercise they daily practiced on their passage down, as well as their morning and evening devotions. We found with those of them on board that the civilization of Queensland, as remarkable sagacity in taking care of their own interests, as
the large quantity of luggage they brought down amply testifies, but as it takes all sorts to make a world, it is not long before we practically realize that there are other diversification’s of the Polynesian homo with characteristics not yet under the Divine control. Nevertheless the childlike simplicity of these islands presents a phase of humanity revealing very great depths of character and interesting aspects to the philosopher.
Having completed the disembarkation of the Mare and Lifu natives, we squared away for Tanna, shaping our course at the end of a very pleasant day of bright sunshine, with steady and fair wind, so that on the dawn of the succeeding day the mountains of Tanna are in sight. As the breeze continued through the day, and the sky remained clear, this scene, as we approach the island, which spread out to view, seemed to present those aspects inspiring the sentiment that, although perceiving the landscape for the first time, we are on familiar ground. Approaching Tanna from the south-east, the conical dot seen at sunrise magnifies into an impressive mountain, with spurs that stretch out into the sea and form distinguished bays and inlets in which we learn numerous tribes of mankind abound. We arrived at the south-eastern end of it by sundown of the 6th Marh, and stood off land till morning. At 8 a.m. of the 7th, the vessel having stood in again to the land, we were abreast of the village where some of our Tanna passengers were bound. We had seventeen on board for various parts of the island, who individually had to be landed at the villages of their own respective tribe along the coast, for to land them altogether, of so many different tribes, at one place, would only have been sacrificing a chief part of their massacre. Although they themselves were exceedingly fraternal with one another on board, yet the tribes to which they belong might be at most inveterate hostility amongst themselves so that those who upon the Queensland plantations had attained unto brotherhood must take up the tribal feud and know each other as bretheran no longer. On board the ship they had all maintained very harmonious relations, excepting on one occasion, when an Apii man applied one of many epithets endearment (familiar to sailors and shearers) as an expression of his private opinion of a Tanna man, who resented such a distinctive estimate of his individuality by seizing a pickaxe, whereupon a loud yell from the hold announced wild excitement prevailing in the space below the ship’s hatches which had been filled with open berths to accommodate our sable cargo. The officers and crew of the ship, hearing the yell, rush to the serio-comical performance, wherein the Apii man is defending himself with a shovel from the pickaxe of the Tanna man, who, in emphatic protest against the use of such improper language, declares “it no good”. Harmony is restored at the mention of a revolver, whereupon there is no further ebullition to mar the conditions of the happy family.