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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

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Ashley's Glossary of
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Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol. XXXI, No. 5 (May 1870)
pp. 447-449.

Savages – White and Tawny. 447

. . . .



      We were lying off and on at Arorai, commonly laid down on the charts as Hope Island. Many of the natives who came off to drive a barter trade with us, appeared personally known to Captain Sisson, and recognized him at sight. I thought this strange, and expressed my wonder to the captain, who said that he once lived for several weeks on the island.

      That evening, when we were more at leisure, he told me the story of his involuntary residence among the savages, which I give, as nearly as possible, in his own language.

      I was, at the time it happened, only twenty-two years old, and was third mate in the Antelope. She must have been so named in derision, for she was an old wagon-built ship that would sail, as the saying is, almost as fast as you could whip a toad through tar. We had been out two years, and had made many changes in the crew, so that we had a motley crowd in the forecastle, who might be classified, not as good and bad, but rather as bad and worse.

      We had lowered in chase of a body of sperm whales one day, being then some five miles under the lee of Arorai, with light trades and fair weather. The old man had given up the starboard boat to me entirely, for he was getting along in years, and was quite willing to rest on his laurels. My boatsteerer was a man we had shipped at Sydney, an ugly, pock-marked Liverpool Irishman, with a head like a bulldog's. I had always managed to keep the right side of McSweeney, and had never had any serious trouble with him. At the bow and midship oars were two other Australian "beach-combers," who would swear black was white at McSweeney's bidding, while the boy at the stroke-oar was more of a salt than a seaman, and might be easily influenced, especially for evil. There was only one in my boat upon whom I could rely at all times – the tub-oarsman, a why little Frenchman, who had stuck by us since we left home, and was much attached to me.

      The mate struck a small whale soon after we lowered, but the school did not bring to, and we had to chase them to windward after they were "gallied," which, you know, is an uphill job. The second mate and I got separated in pursuit of different "pods," and being both young and ambitious, we continued the fruitless chase longer than we ought. It was growing late, indeed the sun was not more than an hour high, when I decided to give it up and return.

      We were then not more than two miles distant from the reef, which makes off from

448 Savages – White and Tawny.

the lee-side of the island. A few canoes were out, but they were not near us, having gone to leeward towards the ship, which had drifted with the current since taking the mate's whale alongside, so that she was now further from the land than when we left her. I estimated her to be quite six miles from us, and, on sweeping the horizon with my glass, could see nothing of the second mate.

      I gave the order to cease pulling and step the mast, in order to set the sail. As I did so, I noticed quick glances interchanged between the three men in the forward part of the boat, and heard a few words in a slang which I did not understand. I was in the act of lifting the mast to launch it forward to McSweeney, when with two strides, he made his way aft, and stood over me with the gleaming boat-knife in his hand.

      "Put down the mast!" said he, enforcing the order with a flourish of the knife.

      Taken entirely by surprise, and at disadvantage, I was powerless to defend myself. I glanced at the others. Atkins and Jones, his two satellites, had also drawn their knives to support him; the boy Tom was of little account either way. Philippe, the little Frenchman, rose to interfere in my behalf, but was felled like an ox by a swinging blow from the boat-bucket in Jones's hand.

      "Give me the steering-oar, and sit down!" said McSweeney, "unless you choose to keep her going to windward. If ye do, we'll pull her and ye may shteer."

      "What do you intend to do?" I demanded. "Where do you wish to go?"

      "We're going ashore, here – we three – Jack Jones, Atkins and myself. The rest can do as yez like, after we've landed. We don't want to commit any murdher, but ashore we're going, so yez can go with us – or go overboard."

      "I'll go with you," spoke up the boy Tom.

      I saw that I was helpless in the hands of this gang of ruffians. Poor little Phil, with his head bleeding severely, still lay half insensible where he had fallen.

      "All right!" said I. "Put up your knives, and let me up. If you must go ashore, the sooner we get there the better. So I'll steer, and you can all pull."

      They seemed relieved at my decision; for neither of them, as I think, had any personal enmity against me, but were determined to desert from the ship at any cost. They took their places at the oars, and plied them vigorously, but still kept a vigilant watch upon me, with their weapons conveniently at hand.

      I steered directly for the place which I judged to be the entrance of the lagoon, for I hoped to get rid of them and return to the ship that night, even If I did so with no help but that of the Frenchman. I confess it was very humiliating to think of making my report to the old man, that I had been overpowered by my own boat's crew.

      But it was nearly dark when we reached the landing-place inside the lagoon, and the clouds showed every indication of a wet, squally night. We were surrounded at once by a yelling crowd of savages, who seized our boat and dragged her up high and dry. They did not seem in a hurry to permit me to leave them, even had I thought it prudent. And I did not fail to consider that if I ran down to leeward, and missed the ship in the darkness, I should find it an impossible task to get back again with only one man to help me, and be with his head broken. So I determined to pass one night, at least, on shore.

      The king of Arorai, savage though he was, treated us well, and assigned us lodgings, as soon as we ceased to talk of leaving the beach that night.

      The three conspirators kept together, and Philippe and myself did the same, while the boy Tom was taken in charge by an old woman, who, I should judge, was the king's mother, or queen dowager. The king, noticing that I was very solicitous about the safety of my boat, gave me to understand that he would be responsible for her. Nevertheless, on going down the coral slope early in the morning, I found her whole broadside stove in. There was no escape for me unless they' chose to carry me off in one of their own canoes, which was not likely.

      But at daylight, no ship was to be seen in the horizon. I thought of the strength of the current, which, among this group of islands, runs, at times, like a mill-sluice. If the ship had drifted out of sight, it might be weeks before she could make the land again by a circuitous route. I confess the prospect was anything but a pleasant one to me.

      McSweeney and his two cronies at once made themselves at home among these people, and each set himself to work to get the king's ear, and acquire influence, so as to have the advantage of the others. For there is very little honor among thieves, according to my experience and observation, and it is wonderful how quickly a white man – at least, a bad white man – acquires power among bar-

Savages – White and Tawny. 449

barians. Before we had been a week on shore Jones was impaled by a spear in the hands the king, who had been incited thereto, as I knew well enough, by his two rivals.

      As the Frenchman and I had but little to do with them, they did not plot against us, knowing that we would leave the island at the first chance that offered. But day after day went by and no sail appeared in sight. This life was monotonous enough, to say nothing of a constant feeling of uneasiness, akin to fear, as we felt that our lives were at the mercy of villanous plots and savage caprices.

      As soon as they had got rid of Jones, McSweeney and Atkins began to plot and counterplot. And each feeling that his hour might come at any moment from the schemes of the other, they found it necessary, as desperadoes in such situations always do, to take the law into their own hands and protect themselves.

      I was lying in the hut one sultry afternoon trying to kill time as best I might, when I heard a confused noise and shouting, and, stepping forth, beheld these two ruffians, naked to the waist, engaged in mortal combat with their knives. I cannot give you the details of the dreadful struggle; it makes me shudder now at the recollection. The arch-mutineer was stabbed to the heart, and the fight was, of course, ended. But Atkins did not live long enough to secure the fruits of his victory, though the king made much of him for his valor, as he would have done by the other, had the fortune of the day been reversed. His wounds were severe, and for want of surgical knowledge and care be died in a few days.

      I breathed more freely after these scoundrels were all disposed of; and, pursuing the same quiet course as heretofore, Philippe and I managed to keep on good terms with all those in authority. I saw very little of the boy, for the old woman guarded him with the most jealous care.

      We had been about six weeks on the island, and were falling into savage ways, and becoming truly "Romans in Rome." We always kept a lookout for vessels, shinning up one or the other of the tall cocoa-palms at least half a dozen times a day, but nothing had been discovered.

      We went out one night in the canoe to torch for flying-fish, as we had several times done before – old Tubokee, our "landlord," the Frenchman and myself. No objection was raised to our going on these cruises, for there was no fear of our escaping in the night; at least so the king thought.

      There were a dozen or more canoes out that night, but they took up their stations at a considerable distance apart, in a line along the coral barrier, as is their custom. The large triangular sails of matting are spread, and the flying-fish, attracted by the glare of torches, rush for it in swarms, or, perhaps more correctly, flocks, and, arrested in their headlong course by the sail, drop into the canoe. We continued our sport until a late hour, when having used up our torches, we prepared to return to the shore, nearly all the others having started in advance of us.

      Suddenly Philippe touched my arm, and pointed seaward without speaking. A light was visible, at first faint, then flashing up brightly, it revealed the foremast of a ship, with the rigging distinctly traced, and the shape of the foresail. She was not far from us, but, owing to the glare of our own torchlights, had not, until now, been seen.

      "A whaler, boiling!" said I. "Phil, we must mutiny, and serve old Tubokee as those ruffians served us. He may go with us – or go overboard."

      The old man remonstrated hard, for he was a chief of rank, and felt that he should be in bad odor with his king and countrymen, if he suffered us to get away without ransom. But there was no help at hand, and Phil and I had matters all our own way. We seized him without ceremony, and were in the act of hoisting him over the side of the canoe, when he yielded to necessity, and seizing a paddle, signified his readiness to follow us.

      In less than an hour we were alongside the ship, which, as we had already conjectured, was no other than the Antelope. She had run south into the variable winds, and then worked to the eastward, making a large circuit as the only way of getting up to the island again. The captain had almost given us up for lost, but, of course, determined to seek here for us, as there was a possibility of our having gone on shore.

      The next day we opened negotiations to recover the boy Tom. The king, as well as the old dowager, was disappointed in not securing a heavy ransom, as he had hoped and expected; but, as we held the old chief Tubokee as a hostage, it was simply a fair exchange, though we did not fail to throw in a few presents, as a return for his kind treatment of us when we were wholly in his power.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Savages – White and Tawny.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 31, No. 5 (May 1870)
Pages: 447-449