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An Adventure at the Chinchas.

W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 51, No. 17 (Oct 22, 1870)
p. 1.

An Adventure at the Chinchas.


      In the year 185–, one of the tangents into which I sometimes "bolted off" from my eccentric orbit of travel, led me on board the clipper ship Blazing Star, in search of a cargo of guano at the Chinchas. I joined her at the port of Callao, and, before having become acquainted with my shipmates, we had reached our destination, and joined the grand fleet.

      We had but few days to wait before our turn came to load cargo, and the Blazing Star was warped in close under a precipice, and moored with her yards "pointed," and her mastheads seeming almost to touch the sea-face of the rocks as she rolled gently to and fro on the ground swell. The guano was collected and wheeled by the Chinese coolies above, to the verge of the cliff, where it was deposited in a large pen or frame called a manguera, which was secured in its place on the declivity by stout chains. At the outer extremity of the manguera was attached a shute of canvas which was led directly into the ship's hatchway. Through this shute the dirty fertilizer descended in a shower, and was thus sent on board and stowed down by the simple operation of its own gravity.

      The choking dust which filled the air during this process was hardly to be endured by any one possessed of the ordinary arrangement of lungs. But Peruvian Cholos and Chinese coolies appear to have been created specially with a view to this sort of work. Our dandy ship at the close of the first day's baptism, looked like some foul bird which had defiled its own nest, and could hardly have been recognized as the saucy, neatly painted clipper of the day before.

      I had an anchor-watch that night, and was walking fore and aft the main deck, alone, killing time as best I might. It was a fine, still night, though dark, and there was no burden of care on my mind, so far as the ship was concerned. There was something strangely romantic about the situation. On one side, shut in by a dead wall of rock, towering into the sky, far above our mastheads. Off shore, a numerous fleet of ships lying at anchor, with here and there lights twinkling on board; some of them with clumsy launches alongside, from which they had been receiving cargo, while others were waiting their turn to haul in under one of the chutes. Stretching along the eastern horizon was the Peruvian coast, with the lofty summits of the Andes looming against the sky beyond.

      I leaned back against the rail on the seaward side gazing upward at the overhanging precipice, and thinking of the miserable lot of the hapless coolies, whose condition, at that time, was far worse than that of our plantation slaves; for, though these Celestials were nominally freemen, hired for a term of years, they were held in miserable bondage, worked beyond their strength, and driven here and there by ignorant and brutal taskmasters – Cholo half-breeds, or, in some instances, negroes. The smoke of their torment, in the form of the fertilizing dust, went up seven days in a week; and rendered desperate and insane by their sufferings, suicides were matters of every-day occurrence among them.

      In the midst of these thoughts, I was startled by the sound of jabbering voices from overhead, raised as if in angry altercation. I wondered what any one should be doing up in the manguera at that unseasonable hour; for I had supposed the tired Chinamen were all snugly stowed away in their rude lodgings for the night. The voices, coming down to me from a height of a hundred and fifty feet, broke strangely upon the stillness.

      Presently a light cloud of the subtle dust filled my eyes, and as I rubbed them clear and shook my head, I observed one side of the canvas shute rapidly straightened, with a rushing sound, as if some heavy body were descending through it. Whatever it were, it whizzed past me into the hatchway, and the canvas again hung limp as before.

      I ran to the combings and peered down into a cloud of the pungent powder rising from the hold. Presently I was sensible of a slight movement among the mass of guano, then a coughing and struggling, as of some one half-choked.

      "Below there!" I called.

      But the coughing and blowing went on as before.

      "It's some poor coolie, who has tumbled from the cliff," said I to myself, as I jumped upon the ladder which still stood in its place for going up and down the hatchway. But the intruder, still puffing and blowing furiously, had already found it, and began to ascend.

      A strange looking object he was, as he stepped out upon the deck at my side. The force of his swift descent had completely buried him for the moment; leaving a full-length "negative" of his person, which was found nearly perfect when we resumed work next morning.

      But the fresh air and a dash of water, inside and out, soon cleared his organs of speech, and it was evident that he was quite unhurt. The first glance at his features convinced me that he was no Chinese; the second, that he was an old acquaintance and shipmate.

      "Lazarus!" I exclaimed, "How came you here?"

      "Dat my name 'board whale khip" he answered, "Who you?"

      "Don't you remember me in the old Bow- ditch?" I asked.

      "Ah! yes, I see now," seizing my hand with a glad grip. "Charley! no ?"

      Most hearty was the greeting I received from "Lazarus," a Kanaka belonging to Metia, or, as it is usually called, Aurora Island, where we had landed him two years before, when his cruise was up in the Bowditch, whaler. His story, as he related it to me, was, that a Peruvian vessel had touched at Metia, and that he, having gone alongside of her in his canoe, with a small boy, had been enticed on board and kidnapped. The boy being to young for labor, was driven off and Lazarus was brought to the Chinchas, where he was turned over to the Deputy Commandante, and set to work digging guano – fairly sold into slavery, to call things by their right names.

      He gave me a terrible account of his ill- treatment and abuse at the hands of a merciless half-breed overseer. Nor was this the worst of his troubles. There was so much that was antagonistic in the characters of Lazarus and his Chinese fellow-laborers, that his life had been a continuous martyrdom. They wrangled and quarreled from morning till night, and from night till morning, except when asleep. Tired of life, my shipmate had stolen away that evening, to look for some chance of escape from his thraldom. He had wandered to the brow of the precipice, where he met three of the Celestials. They, as usual, got into a quarrel, and the exasperated Chinese seized him and throw him into the manguera, which was empty at the time. The gate not being well closed at the outer end, before he could arrest his momentum he had slid into the shute!

      "Lucky," said I, "that you brought up in so soft a place. But what tire you going to do now, Lazarus?"

      "Me no go back!" he answered, earnestly. "Better me die. Stow me away, Charley!"

      But I did not like to run the risk of bringing the ship into troubla, much as I wished to assist my shipmate to his freedom.

      "Never mind," said he, resolutely, "me swim."

      "Swim where?"

      "Over there – Pisco," he answered, coolly.

      "To Pisco!" said I, in astonishment. "Why, it's fifteen miles off!"

      "All right. Fifteen mires not too much. Me get ashore to-morrow morning."

      "But the ground sharks, Lazarus!" I protested. "You could never get there."

      "Me no 'fraid shark. Gi' me big knife, I go.

      He was bent on making the attempt, and naught, that I could say to dissuade him was of any avail. The distance of fifteen miles by water had no terrors for him; for hardly is the shark himself more at home in his element than is one of these amphibious islanders. But I could not help shuddering as I thought of the voracious man-eaters.

      Seeing that he bad firmly made up his mind, I fed him well before he started, and supplying him with a stout butcher knife in a sheath at his waist, he dropped silently down the side and struck out toward the loom of the distant Andes, followed by my prayers for his safety.

      I watched hie course as long as I could see or hear anything, but lost all trace of him before he was up with the Peruvian guard-ship or hulk. I know that he would be sure to give her a wide berth, and was delighted at hearing no alarm or movement on board of her.

      And thus I lost sight of Lazarus, scarcely expecting ever to see him again.

      But a week after having completed our cargo and sailed from the Chinchas for home, we were boarded, while lying becalmed, by a whale-boat from a ship three or four miles from us. As I glanced over the side, 1 looked full in the face of Lazarus, who greeted me with a glad shout, snapping his nostrils as only a South-Sea Islander can.

      "Here your knife, Charley!" said he. "Me fight shark – kill. – look!" pulling up the leg of his trowsers and showing a jagged cut on his shin, not yet fully cicatrized.

      The whaler to which he belonged was bound to Tahiti as her next port, and I have no doubt my stout-hearted friend, Lazarus, found his way thence to his island home, to astonish his countrymen with the details of his miraculous escapes.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: My Kanaka Shipmate: An Adventure at the Chinchas.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 51, No. 17 (Oct 22, 1870)
Pages: 1