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19th Century American Whaling

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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. XLIV, No. 6 (Dec 1876)
pp. 571-575.

Watering at Panapa. 571

. . . .



      While whaling with good success among he group known as the Gilbert Islands, we found our stock of water running short, and as we did not intend to make any regular port for at least two months yet, it was necessary to replenish the supply somewhere. So we ran down to the island of Panapa, which lies nearly under the equator, and is commonly known to mariners as Ocean High Island. Here we made a contract with a white "beach-comber," – one of hose semi-savage outcasts, one or two of whom may be found infesting almost every island in Micronesia – to fill twenty-five casks of water for the ship, in consideration of a certain stipulated quantity of "nigger-head" tobacco. As it was good whaling-ground in the near vicinity of the island, we should be losing no time by this operation, but might continue prosecuting the business of the voyage even while the water-casks were being filled.

      I went in the boat to tow the casks ashore, and we rolled them in over the coral beach and up the slope, arranging them all in tiers with their bungholes open. As I saw no fresh water near at hand, I asked Jerry, the "contractor," where he was to get it from.

      "O," said be, "it’s three miles from here – in a pool under ground, away up in the middle of the island. I shall put on my gang to back the water down. Here come some of ’em, now."

      To my great astonishment, Jerry’s "gang" were all members of the gentler sex. An old woman was the first to drag her weary limbs along, bearing four or five large cocoanut-shells, slung with strings, and filled with water. These she emptied into the tunnel which had been inserted in the bunghole of one of the casks.

      "You don't mean to tell me," said I, "that all this water is to be brought down by women?"

      "Certainly," answered Jerry, coolly. "'Twould be no use to expect it of the men; they wouldn’t do it. They have an idea that it’s beneath their dignity, and that the squaws are just fitted for such drudgery – in fact, that they are not fit for much else. Besides, owing to a superstitious notion here, the water-cave is tabooed to all men – no one but a female is allowed to enter it."

      "Gentlemen not admitted, eh?" said I.

      "Exactly so. Now I shall employ two or three hundred women on this job, and they’ll lug down every drop of this water in cocoanut-shells."

572 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      "But why don’t you take some of the ship’s buckets?" I inquired.

      "Bless you, they don’t want buckets, and wouldn't use ’em if they had ’em. If you get any work out of 'em, you must let ’em work their own way."

      They did work their own way; and day after day – for it would take several days to fill up the twenty-five casks – a battalion of women, young and old, might have been seen slowly trudging in Indian file back and forth between the tier of water-casks and the subterranean pool, inland. All this time great two-fisted male savages were cooking their brains in the tropical sun and looking complacently on, while Jerry, the "boss," lay round loose most of the time, intoxicated with fire-water of his own manufacture.

      After cruising two days, we ran in under the lee of the land, and sent the boats in to tow out all the casks which had been filled. Jerry was in a blissful state of unconsciousness when we landed, but the water-nymphs still continued their jog-trot, and about half the casks had been filled and bunged up ready for rolling down. But the mate insisted upon first knocking out all the bungs to try the quality of the water. The result of this trial was not very satisfactory, for two or three of them were found to be a little brackish in taste. Jerry protested in maudlin tones that he couldn't help it, for the water in the cave was sometimes a little salt, at certain times of the tide. But meanwhile the mate had opened another which was more than brackish; it was decidedly salt. It was quite evident that while their taskmaster was asleep, the tired women had strayed somewhat in their wanderings, and had filled up the oak from the ocean conveniently at hand, instead of from the inland pool.

      "It‘s no use lying about it, Jerry," said Mr. Everson, the chief mate. "You’ll have to fill that cask over again. Roll it over, bung down, boys, and start it all out. I don't want salt water – if I do, I can get enough of it outside the reef."

      The contractor, not having yet received any payment, was fain to submit, and promised to have the cask filled while we were rolling down the other full ones, and getting them ready for rafting.

      Meanwhile, a bottle of dent was circulating among the boat‘s crew, under cover of a neighboring shanty, and some of the boys were in a fair way to get pretty jolly before the raft was ready for towing out. Tim Rafferty, a burly young Irishman who pulled the mate’s midship oar, was especially merry, and in a mood for any mischief. As we would have to wait a while for the cask which we had emptied to be refilled, Tim declared his intention of accompanying the women, and exploring the mysteries of the famous reservoir which was kept so sacred from male eyes. No one else cared to join with him in any such risk, but he was not to be dissuaded, and declared he would go it alone, in spite of all the haythen blackguards that might try to stop him. Although his shipmates would not go on this rash cruise with him, they seemed to turn informers by disclosing his purpose to the mate. As soon as the full casks were all afloat, Tim was missing. The officer was impatient, and stormed away at Jerry for not hurrying up his water-carriers. He had enough to do to keep the men in order, and see that no more liquor was sold to them; and hearing no more noisy demonstrations from Tim Rafferty, naturally supposed he must have fallen asleep in the hut near by; and was glad enough to have him temporarily quiet.

      The last squad of women were seen coming down, talking and gesticulating as if some strange event had happened which they were discussing. Their shells of water were swaying and dangling about at will, and their usual Indian file formation was broken up into little groups.

      "Come, bear a hand!" shouted the mate, "and bring down that water. Jerry, why don’t you hurry ’em up? – -we can’t be waiting here all day."

      "Hold on a bit," answered the beachcomber, who, from his knowledge of the language, had caught a part of the meaning of the guttural sounds that were issuing from the women’s throats. "One of your men must be in some scrape. Are all your crew here?" '

      "Yes," said the officer, glancing round; "at least they are all in sight but Tim Rafferty, and he is in the hut there, drunk, I suppose."

      But this was a mistake. The women told their story, all chattering at once like magpies; and we gathered it through Jerry as interpreter. Tim Rafferty had actually fulfilled his promise of penetrating into the municipal water-tank of Panapa, in spite of

Watering at Panapa. 573

the protests and threats of a score of women who saw him enter. but were. powerless to prevent him. But one of their number was sent off to give information of the sacrilege to the authorities, and when the Irishman, after his explorations, emerged from the cave, he had been seized and borne before the great Eree or chief, to be there dealt with according to the statute for such cases made and provided.

      Here was a kettle of fish! Jerry declared he could do nothing for the culprit; and what the penalty would be he was unable to say, as, so far as his knowledge extended, no man had heretofore been so rash as to brave it. Two or three of our fellows who had imbibed more than the others, talked stoutly of a rescue; but this bravado was cut short by the mate, and orders were given to push off at once with such casks as were ready. No male savages had shown themselves near the beach up to the time of our departure, and the women could tell nothing as to what was to be Tim Rafferty’s punishment.

      We all felt grave apprehensions for his fate, especially as we learned that when he was arrested he had resisted stoutly, knocking down two or three men; and it had required the united force of many to bear him away as a prisoner. Jerry accompanied us on board, pulling an oar in place of the missing man; for he wanted to collect payment for the water filled thus far, and also desired to wash his hands of the whole transaction, if any serious result should grow out of it.

      We lay off and on through the night, carrying a good press of sail to hold up against the current. At daylight some natives were seen making signs to us, as if inviting a parley, and the mate was sent in to meet them. but with strict orders not to venture a landing until our man was delivered up. Meanwhile the ship was kept hovering as close to the reef as prudence would allow, the old rusty six-pounder being loaded to the muzzle, ready to open a covering fire if necessary. Through the medium of Jerry we soon learned that the sentence pronounced upon our shipmate was no less than to have both his eyes put out with a sharp stick! This horrible punishment was in full accordance with the decree of the tattoo god, who had been specially consulted in this emergency. But as heathen gods, like Chilian vigilantes, are always mercenary, we were also informed that even this most heinous crime of which Tim was guilty might be expiated by ransom; Every god has his price, and the demand in this instance was a whole keg of tobacco.

      They might as well have asked for the wealth of Golconda, inasmuch as the ship’s stock of the weed at that particular time was hardly more than sufficient to pay Jerry’s bill for filling the water-casks. The captain would cheerfully have paid the ransom if he could, rather than have any delay or trouble with the savages; but to do so was simply an impossibility. Various substitutes in the way of clothes and trinkets were proposed, but the Shylocks would have their bond – a whole keg of tobacco must be forthcoming, or Tim’s eyes, which had peered into the forbidden sanctuary, must have their light extinguished forever. To hasten the negotiations, he was now brought down to the shore, in full view of his comrades, and two women, horrible-looking old hags, who were to enact the part of executioners, stood over him, each armed with a sharpened stick, and impatient for orders to proceed with their cruel work. Tim was bound with cords, hand and foot, but not being gagged, was giving vent to his impotent rage in loud invectives, uttered in his own rich brogue.

      Jerry explained – or at least pretended to explain – to the chiefs the utter impossibility of our paying the required quantity of tobacco, but they either could not or would not understand this; and not even the sight of the cloth and other valuables displayed before their eyes had the least effect to shut their determination. The grand Eree sent his ultimatum to the captain, which was that the full demand must be complied with before the sun was above the highest point of land, or the sentence would be executed upon Tim Rafferty. This was giving him and us only about half an hour’s grace

      "Very well," said Captain Gordon. "Then we must try another style of argument, which I have been very unwilling to resort to in my dealings with these wretches. If there is no way to save poor Tim, the next thing to do is to avenge him."

      He lowered away his own boat, and ordered the second mate to take charge of the other, leaving the chief- mate to work the ship. Two rifles were loaded and placed, one in each boat, these being the only small

574 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      arms we had that were really serviceable. But several old trade-muskets were also carried, as they might serve to inspire terror, even if they could not do much execution.

      We pulled leisurely in and took our stations within about a hundred yards of the shore, and at clever supporting distance from each other. The whole population of the island were assembled in a mass on the shore, and all the warriors were armed with their own rude javelins and clubs; but we had no fear of anything they could do, so long as we were beyond stone range. The islanders were at that time but little acquainted with the effect of guns, and besides seemed to be bent on defying us, as appeared by their contemptuous answers to the beach-comber, who told them of the captain’s determination to fight if they offered any harm to our man. We did not let Jerry go on shore, but kept him with us, both as interpreter and also, to a certain extent, as a hostage; though I think he was not worth much in either capacity, for the Eree seemed to attach very little value to him.

      To attempt a forcible rescue of Tim was quite too rash an undertaking, and no violence must be used before the crisis arrived. The captain called out to the captive explaining the situation and our intention, and as the sun drew near to the point designated over the top of the hill, the suspense became fearful. The islanders were quiet and grim, and it seemed certain that they would carry out their determination at all hazards. Captain Gordon cast a glance round to see that the ship was in her proper position to support us, grit his teeth together, and prepared for the only course left him – to take a signal revenge upon the merciless savages.

      "Jerry," said he, quietly, showing the butt of a pistol from the breast of his shirt, "you are not to speak again. If you dare to give warning to the enemy, I shall put a ball into your brain. Mr. Hosmer," he continued, turning to the second mate in the other boat, "have your rifle ready, but don't bring it to the shoulder until you see the Eree about to give the signal to the two Women. You take care of him, and I will attend to one of the executioners. Jackson, you‘re the best marksman in my boat – take that musket and be ready to fire upon the other one. God forgive us if we are forced to kill women – but they hardly deserve the name, anyhow. Be ready, the sun is up to the mark now.’

      The terrible tableau was broken by the chief pointing with outstretched hand to the luminary, and shouting in a fearful state of rage the one word "Tobackey!" As no answer came from our party, he was in the act of turning to give the signal, when the three reports rang out so exactly together that they seemed to have come from a single gun. The chief was shot dead in his tracks, and one of the women met the same fate from the old musket of Jackson. The other had her arm broken by the captain’s bullet. The whole scene was at once changed to a tableau vivant, in which one could hardly tell what was going on, while the horrible yells and clamor rent the air and completely drowned our own voices. But fear seemed to have taken the place of rage and defiance; and while we pulled ahead a few strokes to take advantage of this state of things, the captain suddenly sang out:

      "There’s Tim! on his feet, and knocking the crowd right and left!"

      Our shipmate evidently had not yet lost his eyes, from the celerity and certainty of his movements as he emerged from the crowd, running for his life down the slope into the water, followed by a shower of missiles, and closely pursued by a shrieking barbarian, who was poising a heavy javelin for the fatal dart. But the catlike Irishman fell flat on his face as he threw himself into the sea, and the spear passed over him, while at the same instant the deafening roar of the old carriage-gun, loaded to the muzzle, awoke all the echoes, and a murderous shower of rivets and scrap – iron was poured into the already panic-stricken crowd, carrying death or wounds to more than a score of them. The victory was complete; we might now advance and land if we desired, so long as the ship held her position with the fatal fire of that six-pounder impending. But our first great object was to rescue poor Tim Rafferty, who was dragged into the boat, exhausted by the desperate struggle for life, bruised and bleeding from several wounds, none of which, however, were really dangerous. We hastened to convey him on board the ship, where he could be properly cared for, and learned to our great astonishment how he had escaped. The woman who had been killed by the fire from Jackson’s musket

Christmas. 575

was an old dowager of rank, and she carried about her person, stuck in the kilt which here constitutes the only garment of females, an old sheath-knife, doubtless stolen from on board some ship she had visited. Tim had his eye on this knife all the time she had been standing over him. When shot, she fell directly against him, almost upon him, as he lay bound hand and foot, but with his mouth free. With the quickness of thought Tim seized the handle of the knife in his teeth, and cut the seizing that confined his wrists. In the excitement and panic of the moment this movement escaped attention; a single slash of the knife severed the lashing on his ankles, and he rose to his feet a free man and armed! He received several wounds in fighting his way out of the crowd, but the sheath-knife was not idle, and he certainly gave as good as he received. His courage, united with rare strength and agility, proved his salvation; but even these would not have availed but for the temporary demoralization of his tormentors.

      "We have got a part of our water," said Captain Gordon, "and can afford to do without the rest. But we can bring off the empty casks, for I’m not going to lose them."

      We landed and rolled the casks off into the sea without molestation. For the rifles were in skillful hands, and the ship hovering close at hand, with the muzzle of that old carriage-gun protruding from the open gangway. We lost no time in the operation, but hurried up matters, and left the frightened islanders howling over their dead and wounded, but not daring to approach within range of what they believed to be supernatural weapons. We took Jerry also.

      Many years have passed since these circumstances occurred, and other conflicts have taken place between these natives and their white visitors. The elements of light and darkness are even now struggling for the mastery in this and other islands of the Pacific, and if these islanders are easier managed now, it is because they have learned discretion from sore experience, rather than from any change in their fierce and treacherous character.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Watering at Panapa.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 44, No. 6 (Dec 1876)
Pages: 571-575