Six months at sea! Yes, reader, as I live, six months out of
sight of land; cruising after the sperm-whale beneath the
scorching sun of the Line, and tossed on the billows of the
wide-rolling Pacific--the sky above, the sea around, and nothing
else! Weeks and weeks ago our fresh provisions were all
exhausted. There is not a sweet potato left; not a single yam.
Those glorious bunches of bananas, which once decorated our stern
and quarter-deck, have, alas, disappeared! and the delicious
oranges which hung suspended from our tops and stays--they, too,
are gone! Yes, they are all departed, and there is nothing left
us but salt-horse and sea-biscuit. Oh! ye state-room sailors,
who make so much ado about a fourteen-days' passage across the
Atlantic; who so pathetically relate the privations and hardships
of the sea, where, after a day of breakfasting, lunching, dining
off five courses, chatting, playing whist, and drinking
champagne-punch, it was your hard lot to be shut up in little
cabinets of mahogany and maple, and sleep for ten hours, with
nothing to disturb you but 'those good-for-nothing tars, shouting
and tramping overhead',--what would ye say to our six months out
of sight of land?
Oh! for a refreshing glimpse of one blade of grass--for a snuff
at the fragrance of a handful of the loamy earth! Is there
nothing fresh around us? Is there no green thing to be seen?
Yes, the inside of our bulwarks is painted green; but what a vile
and sickly hue it is, as if nothing bearing even the semblance of
verdure could flourish this weary way from land. Even the bark
that once clung to the wood we use for fuel has been gnawed off
and devoured by the captain's pig; and so long ago, too, that the
pig himself has in turn been devoured.
There is but one solitary tenant in the chicken-coop, once a gay
and dapper young cock, bearing him so bravely among the coy hens.
But look at him now; there he stands, moping all the day long on
that everlasting one leg of his. He turns with disgust from the
mouldy corn before him, and the brackish water in his little
trough. He mourns no doubt his lost companions, literally
snatched from him one by one, and never seen again. But his days
of mourning will be few for Mungo, our black cook, told me
yesterday that the word had at last gone forth, and poor Pedro's
fate was sealed. His attenuated body will be laid out upon the
captain's table next Sunday, and long before night will be buried
with all the usual ceremonies beneath that worthy individual's
vest. Who would believe that there could be any one so cruel as
to long for the decapitation of the luckless Pedro; yet the
sailors pray every minute, selfish fellows, that the miserable
fowl may be brought to his end. They say the captain will never
point the ship for the land so long as he has in anticipation a
mess of fresh meat. This unhappy bird can alone furnish it; and
when he is once devoured, the captain will come to his senses. I
wish thee no harm, Pedro; but as thou art doomed, sooner or
later, to meet the fate of all thy race; and if putting a period
to thy existence is to be the signal for our deliverance,
why--truth to speak--I wish thy throat cut this very moment; for,
oh! how I wish to see the living earth again! The old ship
herself longs to look out upon the land from her hawse-holes once
more, and Jack Lewis said right the other day when the captain
found fault with his steering.
'Why d'ye see, Captain Vangs,' says bold Jack, 'I'm as good a
helmsman as ever put hand to spoke; but none of us can steer the
old lady now. We can't keep her full and bye, sir; watch her
ever so close, she will fall off and then, sir, when I put the
helm down so gently, and try like to coax her to the work, she
won't take it kindly, but will fall round off again; and it's all
because she knows the land is under the lee, sir, and she won't
go any more to windward.' Aye, and why should she, Jack? didn't
every one of her stout timbers grow on shore, and hasn't she
sensibilities; as well as we?
Poor old ship! Her very looks denote her desires! how
deplorably she appears! The paint on her sides, burnt up by the
scorching sun, is puffed out and cracked. See the weeds she
trails along with her, and what an unsightly bunch of those
horrid barnacles has formed about her stern-piece; and every time
she rises on a sea, she shows her copper torn away, or hanging in
Poor old ship! I say again: for six months she has been rolling
and pitching about, never for one moment at rest. But courage,
old lass, I hope to see thee soon within a biscuit's toss of the
merry land, riding snugly at anchor in some green cove, and
sheltered from the boisterous winds.
. . . . . .
'Hurra, my lads! It's a settled thing; next week we shape our
course to the Marquesas!' The Marquesas! What strange visions
of outlandish things does the very name spirit up! Naked
houris--cannibal banquets--groves of cocoanut--coral
reefs--tattooed chiefs--and bamboo temples; sunny valleys planted
with bread-fruit-trees--carved canoes dancing on the flashing
blue waters--savage woodlands guarded by horrible
idols--HEATHENISH RITES AND HUMAN SACRIFICES.
Such were the strangely jumbled anticipations that haunted me
during our passage from the cruising ground. I felt an
irresistible curiosity to see those islands which the olden
voyagers had so glowingly described.
The group for which we were now steering (although among the
earliest of European discoveries in the South Seas, having been
first visited in the year 1595) still continues to be tenanted by
beings as strange and barbarous as ever. The missionaries sent
on a heavenly errand, had sailed by their lovely shores, and had
abandoned them to their idols of wood and stone. How interesting
the circumstances under which they were discovered! In the
watery path of Mendanna, cruising in quest of some region of
gold, these isles had sprung up like a scene of enchantment, and
for a moment the Spaniard believed his bright dream was realized.
In honour of the Marquess de Mendoza, then viceroy of Peru--under
whose auspices the navigator sailed--he bestowed upon them the
name which denoted the rank of his patron, and gave to the world
on his return a vague and magnificent account of their beauty.
But these islands, undisturbed for years, relapsed into their
previous obscurity; and it is only recently that anything has
been known concerning them. Once in the course of a half
century, to be sure, some adventurous rover would break in upon
their peaceful repose. and astonished at the unusual scene,
would be almost tempted to claim the merit of a new discovery.
Of this interesting group, but little account has ever been
given, if we except the slight mention made of them in the
sketches of South-Sea voyages. Cook, in his repeated
circumnavigations of the globe, barely touched at their shores;
and all that we know about them is from a few general narratives.
Among these, there are two that claim particular notice.
Porter's 'Journal of the Cruise of the U.S. frigate Essex, in
the Pacific, during the late War', is said to contain some
interesting particulars concerning the islanders. This is a
work, however, which I have never happened to meet with; and
Stewart, the chaplain of the American sloop of war Vincennes, has
likewise devoted a portion of his book, entitled 'A Visit to the
South Seas', to the same subject.
Within the last few, years American and English vessels engaged
in the extensive whale fisheries of the Pacific have
occasionally, when short of provisions, put into the commodious
harbour which there is in one of the islands; but a fear of the
natives, founded on the recollection of the dreadful fate which
many white men have received at their hands, has deterred their
crews from intermixing with the population sufficiently to gain
any insight into their peculiar customs and manners.
The Protestant Missions appear to have despaired of reclaiming
these islands from heathenism. The usage they have in every case
received from the natives has been such as to intimidate the
boldest of their number. Ellis, in his 'Polynesian Researches',
gives some interesting accounts of the abortive attempts made by
the ''Tahiti Mission'' to establish a branch Mission upon certain
islands of the group. A short time before my visit to the
Marquesas, a somewhat amusing incident took place in connection
with these efforts, which I cannot avoid relating.
An intrepid missionary, undaunted by the ill-success that had
attended all previous endeavours to conciliate the savages, and
believing much in the efficacy of female influence, introduced
among them his young and beautiful wife, the first white woman
who had ever visited their shores. The islanders at first gazed
in mute admiration at so unusual a prodigy, and seemed inclined
to regard it as some new divinity. But after a short time,
becoming familiar with its charming aspect, and jealous of the
folds which encircled its form, they sought to pierce the sacred
veil of calico in which it was enshrined, and in the
gratification of their curiosity so far overstepped the limits of
good breeding, as deeply to offend the lady's sense of decorum.
Her sex once ascertained, their idolatry was changed into
contempt and there was no end to the contumely showered upon her
by the savages, who were exasperated at the deception which they
conceived had been practised upon them. To the horror of her
affectionate spouse, she was stripped of her garments, and given
to understand that she could no longer carry on her deceits with
impunity. The gentle dame was not sufficiently evangelical to
endure this, and, fearful of further improprieties, she forced
her husband to relinquish his undertaking, and together they
returned to Tahiti.
Not thus shy of exhibiting her charms was the Island Queen
herself, the beauteous wife of Movianna, the king of Nukuheva.
Between two and three years after the adventures recorded in this
volume, I chanced, while aboard of a man-of-war to touch at these
islands. The French had then held possession of the Marquesas
some time, and already prided themselves upon the beneficial
effects of their jurisdiction, as discernible in the deportment
of the natives. To be sure, in one of their efforts at reform
they had slaughtered about a hundred and fifty of them at
Whitihoo--but let that pass. At the time I mention, the French
squadron was rendezvousing in the bay of Nukuheva, and during an
interview between one of their captains and our worthy Commodore,
it was suggested by the former, that we, as the flag-ship of the
American squadron, should receive, in state, a visit from the
royal pair. The French officer likewise represented, with
evident satisfaction, that under their tuition the king and queen
had imbibed proper notions of their elevated station, and on all
ceremonious occasions conducted themselves with suitable dignity.
Accordingly, preparations were made to give their majesties a
reception on board in a style corresponding with their rank.
One bright afternoon, a gig, gaily bedizened with streamers, was
observed to shove off from the side of one of the French
frigates, and pull directly for our gangway. In the stem sheets
reclined Mowanna and his consort. As they approached, we paid
them all the honours clue to royalty;--manning our yards, firing
a salute, and making a prodigious hubbub.
They ascended the accommodation ladder, were greeted by the
Commodore, hat in hand, and passing along the quarter-deck, the
marine guard presented arms, while the band struck up 'The King
of the Cannibal Islands'. So far all went well. The French
officers grimaced and smiled in exceedingly high spirits,
wonderfully pleased with the discreet manner in which these
distinguished personages behaved themselves.
Their appearance was certainly calculated to produce an effect.
His majesty was arrayed in a magnificent military uniform, stiff
with gold lace and embroidery, while his shaven crown was
concealed by a huge chapeau bras, waving with ostrich plumes.
There was one slight blemish, however, in his appearance. A
broad patch of tattooing stretched completely across his face, in
a line with his eyes, making him look as if he wore a huge pair
of goggles; and royalty in goggles suggested some ludicrous
ideas. But it was in the adornment of the fair person of his
dark-complexioned spouse that the tailors of the fleet had
evinced the gaiety of their national taste. She was habited in a
gaudy tissue of scarlet cloth, trimmed with yellow silk, which,
descending a little below the knees, exposed to view her bare
legs, embellished with spiral tattooing, and somewhat resembling
two miniature Trajan's columns. Upon her head was a fanciful
turban of purple velvet, figured with silver sprigs, and
surmounted by a tuft of variegated feathers.
The ship's company, crowding into the gangway to view the sight,
soon arrested her majesty's attention. She singled out from
their number an old salt, whose bare arms and feet, and exposed
breast, were covered with as many inscriptions in India ink as
the lid of an Egyptian sarcophagus. Notwithstanding all the sly
hints and remonstrances of the French officers, she immediately
approached the man, and pulling further open the bosom of his
duck frock, and rolling up the leg of his wide trousers, she
gazed with admiration at the bright blue and vermilion pricking
thus disclosed to view. She hung over the fellow, caressing him,
and expressing her delight in a variety of wild exclamations and
gestures. The embarrassment of the polite Gauls at such an
unlooked-for occurrence may be easily imagined, but picture their
consternation, when all at once the royal lady, eager to display
the hieroglyphics on her own sweet form, bent forward for a
moment, and turning sharply round, threw up the skirt of her
mantle and revealed a sight from which the aghast Frenchmen
retreated precipitately, and tumbling into their boats, fled the
scene of so shocking a catastrophe.
Sorry, no summary available yet.