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19th Century American Whaling

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Ashley's Glossary of
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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLII, No. 1 (Jul. 1875)
pp. 25-30

A "Beach-Comber's" Yarn. 25



      Tom Calligan, before he shipped with us in the Lancaster, had been a resident of Maranua for several years, leading a semi-savage life as a beach-comber. He was a burly specimen of the genus known among seamen as the Liverpool Irishman, with energy enough to give him influence among rogues of his own class and grade, and just enough of intelligence and book-learning to make him a more dangerous man than he would have been if less ignorant. Our officers had much difficulty at limes with Tom, who could ill brook the regular discipline of the ordinary American ship, and every now and then set out to have his own way. As Captain Bowen flatly refused to discharge him when we arrived at Honolulu, Tom took his own discharge, by going ashore on liberty and never returning on board. And that was the last I ever heard of Tom Calligan; for no one cared much about looking him up, and his place was soon after filled by some other adventurer.

      But it was because I had Tom for a shipmate that cruise that I am able to throw light upon the mystery which had before enshrouded the fate of the barque Chloe Ann and her crew; for once Tom, when in a communicative mood, let out the whole story to me and the cook, and described in his own way the scenes in which it appeared he himself had been one of the chief actors.

      The Chloe Ann had sailed, several years before this story was told us by Tom, on a trading voyage from Sidney, and the last intelligence from her came through the report of a whaler, which had spoken her among the Micronesian groups. She bad touched at Pleasant island, and the captain had signified bis intention of going further to the westward, among the Caroline islands, as he expected to do a good business in getting beche-de-mer, and then dispose of it in China. But the Chloe Ann never entered a Chinese port; and this was the last ever known of her, until the truth was revealed by Tom Calligan.

      "I was there," said Tom, "high in the confidence of old Scutleroona, the chief Nannikin at Maranua. Not a bad name for the old savage, either; for he had scuttled and burned more than one good ship, to my knowledge. I had been there two years on the island, having deserted from the whaler in which I escaped from Norfolk island."

      "But how came you on Norfolk island?" I asked.

      "Oh, never mind; I'm not going back to tell the story of my birth, parentage and education. That has nothing to do with the case of the Chloe Ann. You must take just what you can get from me; and perhaps if you don't let me spin the yarn in my own way just at this present time, I shall shut my teeth again and you'll never get it. 'Tisn't often I feel just in the mood to run over my past life."

      There was no more to be said by me or the cook, and Tom was suffered to go on in his own way.

      "We were then getting quite poor at Maranua. Very few vessels had visited the island for the season previous; there was a famine in the tobacco and gunpowder line, and even old Scutleroona's treasury was getting low, though he was a grasping old wretch, and used his power to confiscate almost anything he wanted from his poor understrappers. He had been overhauling the locker and taking account of stock one evening, and I must confess the meagre supply made a mighty poor show for the royal exchequer. He told me that if he did not soon have a chance to replenish out of some vessel he should feel obliged to declare war against the Nannikin of the neighboring island of Orakow, and make a raid with his whole fleet of war-canoes for purposes of plunder. I, of course, had nothing to do but obey orders if called upon to go on such an expedition; but I gave my advice, as far as I dared, against it, telling the old thief I didn't think it would pay, as they were quite as poor, in the things which we wanted, at Orakow as we were ourselves, and the booty wouldn't be worth the cost and sacrifice of life. But he cared as little about a few common men's lives, in such a case,

26 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

as the king of any civilized country would – and that's little enough.

      "But at daylight the next morning there was a wild hallooing and gathering of barbarians on the beach, for a sail was in sight, making for the harbor on the southwest side of the island. I ran down to examine her with the spyglass. We had but one instrument of this kind, and I had the whole care and charge of it. It was a very powerful one, and was part of the plunder from the French ship – but never mind, that's no part of my story.

      "Well, I easily made out that the stranger was a small barque, and from the scarcity of boats, and other signs about her, that she was no whaler. Canoes were launched in a hurry. Old Scutleroona insisted on going himself to visit and examine the ship, and away we went out over the reef, shaping a course to head her off.

      "Before we had got alongside of her the Nannikin had made up his mind to take her, and had signified as much to me. She would be an easier prize for us than any whaleship could be, for she was not as strongly manned; and a more valuable one, too, if, as we now judged, she was a trader, and had on board a large stock of the very commodities we wanted.

      "Of course, the first stroke of policy was to throw the captain completely off his guard by pretending the greatest friendliness; and by lying stories of the great abundance of beche-de-mer and shells at Maranua, to induce him to come into the anchorage. We soon found that he had never visited the place before, which made the deception all the easier. I at once offered my services as pilot, and under my guidance the Chloe Ann was soon worked up into the little smooth basin inside the reef, and brought to in six fathoms, riding by a single anchor, and that her smallest bower.

      "The skipper's name was Craig, a short, stout man, with a bluff, hearty manner about him, and far more courage after an emergency arrived than discretion in guarding against it beforehand. He had only ten men before the mast, and was not as well provided with arms and other means of defence as a vessel on such a dangerous voyage should have been. It was afternoon when we came to anchor; and as we had promised to go with the captain next morning in his boat further up the lagoon, where we had represented to him that the beche-de-mer was very abundant, he decided to give the day up to rest and jollity. Indeed, the man seemed to feel himself in a perfectly safe position, and to be as much off his guard as if he had just anchored his ship in the haven of a Christian port. And this was just what old Scutleroona desired, and had been aiming at.

      "Meanwhile, the warriors all had their instructions and understood them thoroughly. But no word or movement must indicate this until the preconcerted signal should be given; and to lull suspicion, the women still remained in and about the vessel, mingling freely with the crowd. After a time, Captain Craig, having invited me with Nannikin into his cabin, where he set decanters before us and invited us to drink to the success of his voyage, proposed to go ashore with us, taking a couple of hands with him in the little jolly-boat. We, of course, encouraged this, and he ordered his boat away, while we in the canoe followed closely in his wake. As we pushed off from the ship a private signal was given, and fully understood; which was for the females to withdraw from the scene – not suddenly, or all at once, but to drop away a few at a time, so that no notice should be taken by the officers of the barque. Savages, when about to undertake any warlike movement – or, indeed, any ceremony of grave importance – always get their women out of the way. They are not only firm believers in 'woman's sphere,' but they seem to think that the very presence of females bodes ill luck.

      "When we landed the captain was invited up to the chief's house, where he in turn was invited to drink the native beverage, a preparation made by soaking the Kava root, being provided in ample quantity. It was nothing new or strange to his taste, as it is commonly used at many of the islands which he had visited. His two oarsmen were meanwhile kept in view and carefully watched by natives detailed for that purpose. And while the Kava ceremonies were in progress, reports were made from time to time of how things were going on outside. No attack must be made until the women were all on shore, and this, at the rate they were moving, was not likely to be the case soon enough to suit the impatience of old Scutleroona. For

A "Beach-Comber's" Yarn. 27

he, somewhat inflamed by his potations, had for once forgotten his usual wily tactics, and was inclined to precipitate matters. The captain noticed this uneasiness on the part of the Nannikin, and became uneasy in turn. He got up from his seat and moved to the door, where he could get a view of the ship. Now that his suspicions were stirred, his quick eye instantly detected the fact that the women were leaving, while the men still hung round in full force; and a certain something in the general aspect of things indicated danger. Instead of returning to his seat, he passed out and started down the slope towards his small boat, calling out the names of his two men. The word was passed quickly to the Nannikin, who, now infuriated to frenzy, and seeing that nothing could be gained by further delay, seized a coach-shell, and blew a tremendous blast upon it, which might be heard even to the opposite side of the bay. This was the signal for war; and until this sound was heard, no native of Maranua would have ventured to break the peace with the strangers.

      "But in an instant all was changed, and the onset began simultaneously at all points. The two men who came in the boat with Captain Craig, being taken by surprise, were struck down with clubs where they stood and quickly disposed of. But the captain himself, seeing that there was no escape in the direction of his boat, turned and stood at bay, with a revolver covering the door where the Nannikin would come out. A tall savage made a blow at him with his war-club, but the captain adroitly dodged it, and quickly changing the direction of his pistol, sent a bullet into the heart of his assailant, who fell dead in his tracks. The rest, with their instinctive dread of firearms, fell back a little in a panic, notwithstanding the fierce cries of old Scutleroona, urging them to close in upon their victim. But no one wished to be the first to advance, as some must die before the captain could be overpowered. It was a gallant sight to see the brave captain standing there, still keeping his aim fixed upon the doorway, while, quick as lightning, he dodged several spears which were hurled at him from flank and rear, not daring to turn his head or lose his guard for a moment, though the cries of his officers and crew, engaged in mortal struggle, were ringing in his ears. The Nannikin ordered me to advance and take aim at him with my old ship's musket, which was the best we had among us. But I had no idea of being the first to die at the muzzle of that revolver.

      "'Go forward and kill him!' screamed the insane old chief.

      "'Go yourself!' said I, sulkily; for which I should no doubt have lost my life at the hands of the chief, had he survived. But he had no time then to quarrel with me, and saw no way open for him but to lead the attack himself. He rushed to the door, but the captain's keen eye never wavered, and the ball entered his brain ere he could take another step. At the same moment, having got the aim I wanted, I drew the trigger of the old musket, but she missed fire. Before I could get her cocked, the captain's third shot broke those two fingers – you see, there – and I was disabled from using the gun. But a club, hurled with great force by the Nannikin's son, at the next instant struck the captain across the side of his head, while a spear pierced his back at the same moment. He fell to the ground, and was at once overpowered and put to death with numerous wounds; but not until another savage had fallen under the fourth bullet from the revolver.

      "Meanwhile, the work of blood was progressing on board the Chloe Ann, where the crew were taken unawares; and though there was some fighting, and several of the natives were wounded, there was nothing like organized resistance to the attack for which they were quite unprepared. In half an hour after the first onset the barque was in our hands, and not a man left alive; for the savages acted upon the principle that 'dead men tell no tales.'

      "There was a great wailing and clamor at the 'wake' of old Scutleroona that night, and the body was prepared for burial by being swathed in mats until the bundle bore no semblance in form to a human body. His son Corniboot, who, besides his family claims, had won great credit for having given the first wound to the brave Captain Craig, was installed in authority as head Nannikin of the tribe, and the orgies were kept up until morning. All the bodies of the murdered white men were burned, together with their clothing, which might have told tales and which was of no

28 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

use to savages in so mild a climate as that of Maranua.

      "But the work of plunder and pillage called for the attention of all the next day; and though the young king attempted to superintend and regulate this work, he found his new authority quite insufficient. Each warrior sought to appropriate the lion's share; but I must say that Corniboot afterwards proved himself quite as much of a pirate as his lamented father, and took what he wanted from his subjects wherever he could lay hands on it.

      "The Chloe Ann, after she had been stripped of all that was valued by the robbers, was towed up into the lagoon, where it was not likely that any other vessel ever would anchor, and there set on fire. The sight of the bonfire was highly enjoyed by the savage spectators. They danced, and yelled, and drank Kava until nature was quite exhausted; and the priests, or 'orators,' never ceased their boastful chants of the prowess of their warriors until all sank together into insensibility.

      "I was disgusted with all this business; and though I have been through many rough scenes in the course of my life, and cannot profess to be very sensitive on moral points, I could not help feeling that I had got into very bad company this time; and, furthermore, that it was only at great risk of my life that I could ever get clear of my associates. I might have warned the captain of his danger, but I hardly dared do this, as the least sign of watchfulness on his part would have aroused the chief's suspicions of me, and my life would have been the forfeit. I had tried to take no active part in the affray; and among all the thoughts of my wickedness that haunt me in my sober moods, it is always a satisfaction to remember that my gun snapped, as I have not the blood of the brave Captain Craig on my hands. At that moment I could do no less than fire at him in defence of my own life. Still, I confess that my refusal to obey the orders of old Scutleroona were quite as much from cowardice as from any qualms of conscience. The bold bearing of the captain really frightened the whole of us.

      "I found young Corniboot a much harder master to serve than his father had been, and I lived a miserable life for the next two years. As I possessed a secret which, if disclosed, would call down the vengeance of the British government upon the islanders, it is not strange that they regarded me with suspicious eyes. I was not allowed to go on board of any ship during all this time. The idea of being thus cooped up, at the mercy of a capricious savage, who might at any time take a fancy to knock me on the head, or impale me with a spear, was horrible enough; and of course my mind was made up to seize the first opportunity to escape, even at any risk of life.

      "I had a small canoe, in which I was accustomed to go outside the reef, torching for flying-fish; but as I generally went in company with many other canoes, no one thought of my escape by this means, as it would not be easy for one canoe to leave the fleet without being observed. But here was my only chance, and I resolved to make the most of it.

      "One day the whole population had been out driving a brisk trade with a ship which had been lying off and on. I was kept confined all day, with a guard over me, lest I should by any chance communicate with those on board; but making a pretext for going outside the house a moment, I had seen enough of the vessel at a distance to assure me that she was an American whaler. From what I heard dropped by Corniboot after his return to the shore, I also learned that the captain intended to run down to the island of Orakow, and lie off and on there the next day. Here, then, was my opportunity.

      "My only companion in the little canoe that night was a lad of about fifteen, who was the son of a chief, and whose heathen name I always Anglicized into 'Bob.' I contrived to get the lee position of the fleet, and pretending to be entirely absorbed in the sport of torching for the fish, I suffered my little boat to drift, insensibly increasing my distance from all my consorts. At the proper moment, I fell against Bob as if by accident, knocking the torch out of his hand overboard. He opened his mouth to utter an exclamation; but it was choked in the utterance by my grip upon his throat. I had a gag ready, and the boy was soon quiet enough in the bottom of the canoe.

      "A little more drift was allowed to get out of sight and hearing of the fleet, and then I trimmed my sail of matting and bore away with a free sheet, shaping a course as near as I could judge for the island,

A "Beach-Comber's" Yarn. 29

Orakow, which is about forty miles from Maranua. My light craft glided swiftly along, and soon after the moon rose. I was gladdened with a sight of the land looming in the distance. I had relieved Bob of the gag, and allowed him to sit up; but he understood the situation, and had sense enough to submit to my orders. On we sped, until daylight disclosed to me the ship which I had so much desired to see. She was but a few miles distant from the land, and headed in towards it. I was for a time entirely absorbed in looking at her and at the beautiful shores, for Orakow is an island of great natural beauty; but my fellow-voyager, Bob, naturally looked to windward, and I caught sight of what looked like a glimmer of joy in his eye. Turning my head and glancing as astern, I saw the sail of a canoe at no great distance – another look, and I could see her hull as she rose upon a sea. I stood up on the gunwale; I could see another, and yet another coming down before the breeze. They were larger canoes than mine, and could make more rapid way under the pressure of their immense 'leg-of-mutton' sails. The swiftest vessels of the fleet were evidently in hot pursuit of me. There would be no safety for me in landing at Orakow, and the ship was yet so distant from me that I could not afford to laugh at my pursuers.

      "I trimmed my sail to do its best, and ordered Bob to paddle for dear life. The rogue did not do this with a very good grace, for of course he desired to be overtaken; and I could not ply my own paddle, for the canoe would lose way too fast by yawning about, if left to herself. I must stick to my post in the stern and keep her straight. I exhorted and swore at the lad, but he evidently put out very little strength upon his paddle, though he continued to make the motions, merely from fear of a crack over the head. Every time I glanced behind me the pursuers loomed nearer and nearer; and I could soon make out that the leading canoe was that of Corniboot himself.

      "I stripped off my shirt (which I wore jumper-fashion, outside of my trousers, like all beach-combers), and attached it to a stick as a signal to attract the attention of those on board the ship. Of course they would take no interest in this grand canoe regatta, until they knew that one of the parties was a white man. I worked myself into a high state of excitement until I saw by the manoeuvres of the whaler, as she luffed sharp by and made more sail, that this interest was awakened. Then I forced myself to be calm, and prepared for a struggle in which I meant to be killed rather than be taken back into captivity.

      "Gradually and steadily the Nannikin's canoe gained upon me, impelled by her great sail and by four pairs of nervous arms plying their paddles with a will, and seeming none the less fresh for their laborious chase which had lasted all night. I could see the dreadful grin of exultation in Corniboot's face and realized what a cruel fate mine would be if he got me again into his power. The next canoe was only a few ship's lengths astern of his, and others were coming up, the men at the paddles making the clear morning air vocal with their yells of triumph and delight. If the ship would only fire a shot from her big gun, now! – or fire the gun with powder only, for that would answer the purpose quite as well. Her maintopsail swings in aback; and down comes a whaleboat from the davits into the water. 'Hurrah!' I cried in my wild excitement, for I felt that there was a chance to be saved yet!

      "But the whaleboat, though light and swift, must pull to windward; and it seemed an age, though only a minute in reality, before the men got ready to lay back on their oars with that long and regular stroke in which whalemen can excel all other men in the world. Nearer and nearer – the large canoe already laps by my quarter – the steersman gives her a sheer to lay her aboard of me, and the man in the bow seizes my gunwale with eager grasp – but my paddle, swung with all the strength I possessed, descends edgewise upon his fingers, crushing the bones – and we are again separated, while his howls of pain are frightful to hear. I have gained a little way by this operation, and while there's life, there's hope!

      "It is evident, however, that I must prepare for another crisis before the whalemen can arrive; for the large canoe soon begins again to lessen the distance between us. My boy Bob also shows signs of treachery and a desire to give aid and comfort to the enemy, as it was natural that he should do. He refuses now even to make the motions of paddling, and is en-

30 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

couraged to set me at open defiance. Again the canoe comes up alongside; and as I raise my paddle to strike the nearest savage, the lad closes with me and grasps my arm!

      "For an instant I was helpless; but letting go my paddle, I seized the luckless boy by the neck and the leg, and darted him bodily, head first, full in the face of Corniboot himself, whose face, illumined by that dreadful grin, was now within two feet of me. The shock was so severe that both were knocked overboard, bleeding and partially stunned. Another savage made a grab at me to drag me into the Nannikin's canoe; but I slipped through his arms like an eel, and diving, come up on the off-side, and strike out, swimming, towards the approaching whaleboat.

      "My own little skiff had broached to when left to her own guidance; and as the two lay grappled side by side, the whaleboat coming stern on in full career, dashed into them, making a complete wreck of both the frail structures. Poor Bob and Corniboot, who appeared to be seriously hurt, were helped into the next canoe, which was now close at hand, while willing hands and strong arms pulled me into the boat. We did not stop to parley; the disappointed barbarians, howling louder than ever, took the back track for Maranua, and a few minutes later, I was telling my story on board the Vesper of New London.

      "That is, I mean I told a part of my story, but I have never let out the real facts about the Chloe Ann until now. As wicked as I am, I have always been sorry for the part that I had in the affair, and wish that I had forewarned Captain Craig, even at the risk of my life. He was an unwise and foolhardy man – but a brave one even to the death."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A "Beach-Comber's" Yarn.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 42, No. 1 (Jul. 1875)
Pages: 25-30