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Chapter Three



IT was in the summer of 1842 that we arrived at the islands; the
French had then held possession of them for several weeks.  
During this time they had visited some of the principal places in
the group, and had disembarked at various points about five
hundred troops.  These were employed in constructing works of
defence, and otherwise providing against the attacks of the
natives, who at any moment might be expected to break out in open
hostility.  The islanders looked upon the people who made this
cavalier appropriation of their shores with mingled feelings of
fear and detestation.  They cordially hated them; but the
impulses of their resentment were neutralized by their dread of
the floating batteries, which lay with their fatal tubes
ostentatiously pointed, not at fortifications and redoubts, but
at a handful of bamboo sheds, sheltered in a grove of cocoanuts!  
A valiant warrior doubtless, but a prudent one too, was this same
Rear-Admiral Du Petit Thouars.  Four heavy, doublebanked frigates
and three corvettes to frighten a parcel of naked heathen into
subjection!  Sixty-eight pounders to demolish huts of cocoanut
boughs, and Congreve rockets to set on fire a few canoe sheds!

At Nukuheva, there were about one hundred soldiers ashore.  They
were encamped in tents, constructed of the old sails and spare
spars of the squadron, within the limits of a redoubt mounted
with a few nine-pounders, and surrounded with a fosse.  Every
other day, these troops were marched out in martial array, to a
level piece of ground in the vicinity, and there for hours went
through all sorts of military evolutions, surrounded by flocks of
the natives, who looked on with savage admiration at the show,
and as savage a hatred of the actors.  A regiment of the Old
Guard, reviewed on a summer's day in the Champs Elysees, could
not have made a more critically correct appearance.  The
officers' regimentals, resplendent with gold lace and embroidery
as if purposely calculated to dazzle the islanders, looked as if
just unpacked from their Parisian cases.

The sensation produced by the presence of the strangers had not
in the least subsided at the period of our arrival at the
islands.  The natives still flocked in numbers about the
encampment, and watched with the liveliest curiosity everything
that was going forward.  A blacksmith's forge, which had been set
up in the shelter of a grove near the beach, attracted so great a
crowd, that it required the utmost efforts of the sentries posted
around to keep the inquisitive multitude at a sufficient distance
to allow the workmen to ply their vocation.  But nothing gained
so large a share of admiration as a horse, which had been brought
from Valparaiso by the Achille, one of the vessels of the
squadron.  The animal, a remarkably fine one, had been taken
ashore, and stabled in a hut of cocoanut boughs within the
fortified enclosure.  Occasionally it was brought out, and, being
gaily caparisoned, was ridden by one of the officers at full
speed over the hard sand beach.  This performance was sure to be
hailed with loud plaudits, and the 'puarkee nuee' (big hog) was
unanimously pronounced by the islanders to be the most
extraordinary specimen of zoology that had ever come under their

The expedition for the occupation of the Marquesas had sailed
from Brest in the spring of 1842, and the secret of its
destination was solely in the possession of its commander.  No
wonder that those who contemplated such a signal infraction of
the rights of humanity should have sought to veil the enormity
from the eyes of the world.  And yet, notwithstanding their
iniquitous conduct in this and in other matters, the French have
ever plumed themselves upon being the most humane and polished of
nations.  A high degree of refinement, however, does not seem to
subdue our wicked propensities so much after all; and were
civilization itself to be estimated by some of its results, it
would seem perhaps better for what we call the barbarous part of
the world to remain unchanged.

One example of the shameless subterfuges under which the French
stand prepared to defend whatever cruelties they may hereafter
think fit to commit in bringing the Marquesan natives into
subjection is well worthy of being recorded.  On some flimsy
pretext or other Mowanna, the king of Nukuheva, whom the invaders
by extravagant presents cajoled over to their interests, and move
about like a mere puppet, has been set up as the rightful
sovereign of the entire island--the alleged ruler by prescription
of various clans, who for ages perhaps have treated with each
other as separate nations.  To reinstate this much-injured prince
in the assumed dignities of his ancestors, the disinterested
strangers have come all the way from France: they are determined
that his title shall be acknowledged.  If any tribe shall refuse
to recognize the authority of the French, by bowing down to the
laced chapeau of Mowanna, let them abide the consequences of
their obstinacy.  Under cover of a similar pretence, have the
outrages and massacres at Tahiti the beautiful, the queen of the
South Seas, been perpetrated.

On this buccaneering expedition, Rear Admiral Du Petit Thouars,
leaving the rest of his squadron at the Marquesas,--which had
then been occupied by his forces about five months--set sail for
the doomed island in the Reine Blanche frigate.  On his arrival,
as an indemnity for alleged insults offered to the flag of his
country, he demanded some twenty or thirty thousand dollars to be
placed in his hands forthwith, and in default of payment,
threatened to land and take possession of the place.

The frigate, immediately upon coming to an anchor, got springs on
her cables, and with he guns; cast loose and her men at their
quarters, lay in the circular basin of Papeete, with her
broadside bearing upon the devoted town; while her numerous
cutters, hauled in order alongside, were ready to effect a
landing, under cover of her batteries.  She maintained this
belligerent attitude for several days, during which time a series
of informal negotiations were pending, and wide alarm spread over
the island.  Many of the Tahitians were at first disposed to
resort to arms, and drive the invaders from their shores; but
more pacific and feebler counsels ultimately prevailed.  The
unfortunate queen Pomare, incapable of averting the impending
calamity, terrified at the arrogance of the insolent Frenchman,
and driven at last to despair, fled by night in a canoe to Emio.

During the continuance of the panic there occurred an instance of
feminine heroism that I cannot omit to record.

In the grounds of the famous missionary consul, Pritchard, then
absent in London, the consular flag of Britain waved as usual
during the day, from a lofty staff planted within a few yards of
the beach, and in full view of the frigate.  One morning an
officer, at the head of a party of men, presented himself at the
verandah of Mr Pritchard's house, and inquired in broken English
for the lady his wife.  The matron soon made her appearance; and
the polite Frenchman, making one of his best bows, and playing
gracefully with the aiguillettes that danced upon his breast,
proceeded in courteous accents to deliver his mission.  'The
admiral desired the flag to be hauled down--hoped it would be
perfectly agreeable--and his men stood ready to perform the
duty.'  'Tell the Pirate your master,' replied the spirited
Englishwoman, pointing to the staff, 'that if he wishes to strike
these colours, he must come and perform the act himself; I will
suffer no one else to do it.'  The lady then bowed haughtily and
withdrew into the house.  As the discomfited officer slowly
walked away, he looked up to the flag, and perceived that the
cord by which it was elevated to its place, led from the top of
the staff, across the lawn, to an open upper window of the
mansion, where sat the lady from whom he had just parted,
tranquilly engaged in knitting.  Was that flag hauled down?  Mrs
Pritchard thinks not; and Rear-Admiral Du Petit Thouars is
believed to be of the same opinion.

Herman Melville