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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

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Ashley's Glossary of
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Dana's Dictionary of
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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LIV, No. 6 (Dec 1881)
p. 553-560.

A Haunted Island. 553

. . . .



      Our cruise in the bark Ontario, among the group known as the Gilbert Islands, having been but moderately successful, the captain resolved to change his cruising-grounds running off to the westward toward the Carolinas, and then working down among those clusters known as the Solomon Archipelago, and so by way of the New Hebrides to the Australian coast; for we intended to make a port at Sydney, as we must buy provisions before starting on the homeward voyage. We were quite familiar with the appearance and customs of the Gilbert-Islanders, by reason of frequent intercourse with them, but no one on board except the captain himself had ever seen those of Solomon, whom he described as of African descent, the very Ethiops of the Pacific. With a man of his adventurous character in command, the cruise before us was likely to be full of queer situations. The islands were, at that time, little known and seldom visited except by the few traders from Australia, who went there to barter for pearls, marine shells, beche-de-mer, sandal-wood, or whatever else might be picked up and turned to account.

      But before having sighted any of the islands, we fell in with sperm whales, and took two or three good fares of oil, which tempted us to linger, as we must, of course, pursue the legitimate business of our voyage. One afternoon we had lowered our boats in chase of whales, the weather being moderate, but squally, as is frequently the case in those tropical latitudes. I was a mere lad at that time, and pulled the stroke oar in the larboard or chief mate's boat. We became separated from the other boat, and struck and killed a small whale, several miles to leeward of the ship, and when our victory was complete, and the whale turned up, we began to realize that the sun was setting, and also that a squall was rising, which threatened to be one of unusual violence. It would be useless to attempt pulling to windward, until the squall was over, so we lay still by the whale, awaiting the result. As the squall approached, it entirely obscured the ship from view, and when it reached us we were shut in by an impenetrable mist, and drenched by a pelting rain. But as the wind was not strong enough to put us in any actual peril, we did not mind the wetting much in the warm climate. The twilight was short and the squall lasted full two hours, so that it was long after dark before it had passed over, leaving a strong breeze. When we last saw the ship she was keeping her luff as if the other boats were to windward of her. She might have taken whales alongside, or else some accident might have happened, as a boat getting stoven, or the like, at any rate she would not run off to us until all was safe and secure up there to windward. It would not be wise for us to pull up in that direction upon an uncertainty, so we lay quiet, keeping a bright lookout for lights, and our ears open for the sound of a gun or other signal. But the night wore away without anything being seen or heard, and the long suspense was only relieved by a feeling of despair when the day broke and no sail was to be seen on the horizon.

      What now was to be done? Mr. Andrews, our mate, was a young man, and entirely unacquainted with this region of the Pacific, but he knew, of course, very nearly where we were from the observations made at noon, and that there were islands at no great distance under our lee. But without any instruments, but a little unreliable compass, it might not be easy to navigate with sufficient accuracy to find a small island, especially if it was not very high,

554 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and besides he did not think our chart of this archipelago was very accurate, although it might have a certain general correctness. After a brief consultation, in which we all expressed our opinions so far as we could be said to have any, it was decided to remain where we were through the day, as the ship was no doubt searching for us, and if she did not appear by sundown we should head her off, and shape a course as well as we could to fall in with land.

      We at once put ourselves on very short allowance of water and hard bread, for the stock carried in the boat was small, and we had no squalls that day of sufficient violence and duration to enable us to catch any water. Our spirits fell more and more as the hours glided away, and our sharpest lookout had failed to discover any sail in sight. We had taken all the rest we could through the day, making an awning of the boat's sails: now as the cool of evening set in we again stepped the mast, and, spreading both mainsail and jib, sped on a course to the west-southwest before a moderate trade-wind. It was disheartening to think of the chances that lay before us, if we might be many days searching in vain for the promised land, with the prospect of even perishing with hunger and thirst in a little open boat upon the broad ocean, for the chances were a hundred to one against our being picked up by any vessel in a region of the Pacific so little frequented. But these thoughts were dispelled with the dawn of morning, for there, a little on the port bow, was something breaking the horizon line, which all of us pronounced, at first sight, to be land. This conviction being unanimous, the boat head was luffed a point or two, so as to steer directly for the middle of it, and our hearts beat anxiously as all our eyes were strained in the same direction, for it must be remembered that neither of us had ever visited any island of this group, and the reputation of the natives, so far as it had come to our ears, was none of the best. The fear of starvation and thirst was superseded by a new and almost equally terrible fear of encountering hostile savages who would show us no mercy. But there was nothing before us but to press on and reconnoitre, and afterward be governed by circumstances as they might arise.

      The island showed an extent of at least five miles in a north-and south direction at right angles with our course, and the summit line was nearly parallel with the horizon appearing like a table land of rock without vegetation. But as we drew nearer, speeding on before the breeze, we began to open up trees standing in the foreground of the pictures. These trees must, of course, be cocoanut and bread-fruit, and others which belonged in that latitude, but they seemed dwarfed against the great wall of rock which rose full two hundred feet high against the sky behind them. There was a line of breakers extending along the whole length of the base of the picture, but later we made out that this surf did not break directly upon the island, excepting at the extremities north and south, for a barrier of rock or of coral, which must have been nearly flush with the surface of the sea, ran along a part of the coast, and parallel with it, for at least two miles. We kept a sharp lookout for an opening in this barrier, and at length discovered one nearly in the centre of its line, though it was by no means smooth in the channel, and the passage through it might be attended by some danger. The strip of land which formed the foreground of the island was small in extent, and must have had a good layer of soil upon it. for it was well sprinkled with trees, including bananas and bread fruit, and a few cocoanut-trees, with other vegetation not so familiar to our eyes. But to our great astonishment we could see no human beings on shore, nor any houses, canoes, or other signs of the presence of man. Having approached the reef as near as the mate thought prudent, for we did not dare to venture within the influence of the rollers, the main-sheet was hauled flat, and the boat close-hauled on a wind, to survey and study the situation.

      "I must say," said Mr. Andrews, "that I have never in my few years of experience seen an island built like this, nor have I heard tell of one like it. I should say it was partly coral-work, and partly volcanic"

      "So it is, sir," answered Wesley, the boatsteerer, who was standing erect on the clumsy-cleet, holding by the bight of the boat's warp, and searching, with his keen sight, every part of the scene before him. "That may well be, for I have heard that there are islands of both classes among the Solomons. Now suppose the coral-workers had begun building upon rocks at the bottom, for it's likely they always know enough to select a good foundation, and supposing they had got half way to the surface, a great natural convulsion had pushed the whole arrangement bodily upward, rocks, coral and all, so there you have the explanation of the whole business, – eh, sir?"

      Wesley was an inveterate talker wherever the opportunity was given him, and his shipmates were fain to confess that he was rather a good talker, too, in his way. He was almost as equally cool under all circumstances, and would stop to argue the point even when standing up within dart of a whale, generally being able to transfix his human opponent, and the whale too, without losing time, or losing his head.

      "Yes, that's very probable," said the

A Haunted Island. 555

mate. "But, however, it matters little to us, just now, how the island was made, for here it is. I see no signs of life upon it, and yet there is food enough to support quite a colony of people, I have no doubt, and of course where all this vegetation is there must be fresh water."

      "Just so, sir," returned Wesley, "and I can hardly believe the place is uninhabited, for it is contrary to all rules in these Pacific seas. You know the old saying, "Where there's a cocoanut-tree there is a Kanaka. But Kanakas always build houses, I reckon, I never knew any of them to live in holes in the socks, and that back-ground of rock there looks as solid as if it hadn't even a rat-hole in it, let alone a cave big enough to shelter a man. What do you think, sir, of going round the lee side of it, and prospecting there?"

      "Well, I have thought of it, but a bird in the hand, you, know, and I don't "believe there's anything to leeward of that stone wall, but the ocean. I think that is the very backing of the whole, though it is a pity things hadn't been faced the other way. I don't like to give up what's before us, and go any farther down to leeward. You see we shall have to make a long circuit, for there are breakers away out for miles at the north and south ends of the island."

      "Well, we've got all day before us," argued the boatsteerer, and there is a posibility[sic] of falling in with the Ontario, or some other vessel, and so save us the necessity of landing at all.'

      "Exactly, but if we get round there to leeward, and find, as I expect, nothing but a bold rock without a landing, we shall have need of more than one day before us to get back where we are now, against wind and current. I've got the weather-gage now, and I can't bear to give it up. If I could only feel sure that the island is really uninhabited, and that there is no trap to entice us ashore, I think I would put her head in for that inlet now, at once."

      "We can get in there well enough, sir," said the boatsteerer, "but I am not at all sure about getting out again, in case we should want to. It would be rather funny to be marooned on an island with no means of getting off again. There would be something original in the situation."

      "Better than starving to death on the ocean with nothing but sky and water to look at," put in old Ripley, the burly midship oarsman.

      "That's true as a choice of evils, though we should find a fruit diet would soon be monotonous enough. But as to human beings, I think we must decide that they have never found their way here, for there isn't a sign of life to be seen. I think we could get in through the inlet, but as to coming out again we should have to catch a time when the westerly monsoon is on, for the trade-wind will always blow on shore, and I suppose that there is little or no set of tide here."

      "Wesley," called out Mr. Andrews, who had been reflecting, and now seemed to have made up his mind, "I'm going to do it. We mus'n't perish at sea, and I won't run the risk of going any further down to leeward, when we've got food and water in sight right before us. Look out sharp ahead, and on both bows, and give me the word, and I'11 head her right for the middle of the channel. Now, boys, keep her well trimmed, and be ready to grab either paddles or oars, if necessary."

      And after a last thorough search of the horizon to assure ourselves that no ship was in sight, the boat's head was swung off, heading directly for the inlet. We entered it all right, but found the force of the sea greater than we had foreseen, and the passage growing narrower as we approached.

      The mate did his best to keep her straight, but when near the inner edge of the reef, moving very swiftly, she swerved a little to starboard, and the sharp coral crushed into her frail bottom as if it were an egg-shell. The next instant we had glided past the narrow of the channel, and were in the clear lagoon inside, but the water was already rising fast round our feet. I seized the bucket and baled for dear life, while the rest pulled their oars, but we had all we could do to reach the shore before she filled to the thwarts. We floundered out upon the coral bank, and dragged up the wreck of the boat, but she was past being repaired with any means at our command. We perceived at once that we were like Herman Cortes after he had burned his ships, for there we were six men, marooned on a mere strip of land, with no means of escape. It was evident, however, that our lives were in no immediate peril. There was food enough, dropping from the trees even had we been unable to climb them, and there was fresh water trickling down from a fissure in the rocky wall, as though out of some mysterious reservoir. There was plenty of bedding to be gathered up by the armful, and our wrecked boat turned bottom up afforded all the shelter we should want in that equable climate. There was no object for which to exert ourselves, and life was likely to be a burden for the want of something to do.

      Directly abreast the passage through which we had come with the boat was a narrow creek like a still dock leading right up to the base of the great rocky wall, and thus dividing our island, or rather the habitable portion of it, into two parts. The width of this creek was not above fifteen feet, but its depth must have been many fathoms, for al-

556 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

though the water was clear and comparatively quiet, we could not see the bottom. As it was too wide to be jumped over, and too deep to be waded, we set to work with the boat-hatchet to chop several small trees, and throw a rude bridge across it, thus giving us highway to all parts of our little kingdom. We had not only matches, but flint, steel and tinder, in the boat's lantern-keg, and were thus able to make a fire for baking breadfruit, of which there was enough to furnish the staple of our solid food. We set what we whalers called "boat's-crew watches,"taking turns about, two and two, and a constant lookout for ships was kept night and day.

      In our exploration we had come across evidence of a fire having been built, and some decaying twigs had been found braided in a manner only possible by the agency of human hands, but there was nothing bearing marks of very recent date. Of course human beings had landed here, but they might have been temporary visitors from some other island, and probably got away again as soon as convenient. The situation of the place was not such as to tempt any tribe to make it a permanent home, being on the weather side of a wall of rock two hundred feet high, and completely inaccessible to man. The place was liable to be swept by a hurricane, and we found evidence in the way of fallen trees that it had been so at no remote period, and besides there was the difficulty of egress, and the fact that no fish were to be taken without going out to windward of the barrier, if indeed there was any even there. This latter is an important consideration with the Micronesian savage, fish being the only animal food with which he breaks the monotony of his vegetable diet.

      On the third day of our imprisonment here, I observed that Mr. Andrews seemed troubled and downcast, at which I could not wonder much, especially as he had left a young wife at home, and had stronger ties than the rest of us, though the prospect was anything but pleasant even to me, reckless boy as I then was. As we sat all together on the lee side of the boat-house at evening, eating our supper of bread-fruit and bananas, he returned to the old subject of discussion, our situation on the island, and our plans for the future.

      "Here's our boat," he said, "past all cure; that is, with any medicine that we have here. She can no longer be called a boat, as she is only useful when keel uppermost. I don't like to hang blue-lights, but it looks very much, boys, as though we should live and die on this beach. It all depends upon the chances of a ship coming near enough to see us, which isn't likely at all, for no one will approach very close on a weather shore. We have no possible chance to get out to her and make ourselves known. If they see a fire, they will suppose it made by savages, and pass on without stopping for any closer acquaintance."

      "That's all very true," asserted Wesley, "and the chance does look slim. I've been turning it over in my thoughts, and as I couldn't find my way out, I've tried to think how much worse off we might be than we are now. We can't starve here, nor freeze, nor drown, and no hurricane will blow us away with that stone-wall at our back. I only wish we could look through that rock, and see what's under our lee."

      "Can't we knock up a boat of some kind?" suggested old Ripley.

      "If we could," answered the mate, "the greatest difficulty-would be got over at once, but it seems like joking to ask such a question. Here's our whale-boat with two timbers broken, and three streaks caved in, and there are no trees fit to make a dug-out even if we had tools to work with, which we haven't, as our stock is limited to a little boat-hatchet and a few sheath-knives. We can make baskets out of twigs and palm-leaves, but nothing that will hold or keep out water."

      "But we can make a raft of raplings that will float us."

      "Yes, so we might, but we could never manage or handle it in that sluice-way, to get it outside the reef. Any such attempt would only drown the whole of us, but I suppose we are not ready to end the suspense in just that way. If we could – Hark! what's that sound?" We were sitting very near the bank of the creek or dock before mentioned, and the sound appeared to come up out of the water, close to the base of the wall, and directly under our bridge. It was like the dip of paddles, and was repeated many times. It was no matter of imagination, for we all heard it distinctly, and so we could not be mistaken. After a short interval of perfect silence, the sounds were repeated, continuing for some moments. Here now was food for wonder and discussion, and the subject seemed to assume an importance that did not justly belong to it. But we were in no fair way to solve the problem of navigation, so we were not sorry to have something else to talk about. Wesley delivered a long lecture about water-sprites, naiads, and mermaids: but as he was not at all superstitious, and did not believe in any of those beings, he said it must be caused either by fish, or, what was more likely, it was connected with some volcanic operations going on beneath us, and even hinted at the possibility of our all being blown sky-high some fine night, without a note of warning. The noises were not loud enough to draw attention unless we

A Haunted Island. 557

were nearer the spot, and keeping very quiet, but after this, of course, there was one or more of us listening about there most of the time, for there was a strange fascination attracting us to the spot. The sounds were not always the same; sometimes they were paddle-dips, at other times such as might result from a smart blow struck flat upon the surface of water, and again limited to faint breathings or sighs, and two or three times a bubble had been seen to rise and to break. We could never catch or see any fish, and indeed there were some varieties among those sounds which the presence of fish could not reasonably account for. Thus matters went on until the sixth day of our stay upon the island, when an incident happened which did much toward unraveling the mystery, and made such an impression upon my boyish fears, that I shudder even now as I remember the terror that seized upon me at that moment.

      My shipmates all chanced to be at some distance away, and I was sitting alone on the bridge, with my feet hanging, and gazing downward into the water, as if by so doing I could penetrate the mystery that now occupied so much of my thoughts. I could see the dark wall of the rugged rock for several feet down, but beyond that all was lost in obscurity. Of a sudden, a small bubble rose, then another, then several in quick succession, and then as if shot upward from the bowels of the globe a human head rose into the air, with a jerk like that of a jack-in-the-box, so close to me, as I stooped, that I was showered all over with the water displaced by it, – and such a head! I was so overwhelmed with horror, that I had no strength to rise up, and indeed I came near toppling over into the water, and into the very embrace of this horrible demon, for such it seemed to me. It stared with affright at the bridge, then up at me, and then to right and left, and then, after displaying an array of dreadful black fangs, set in a mouth uglier than that of a codfish, it settled almost as suddenly as it had hopped upward. I was too frightened even to describe clearly all that I had seen, as my shipmates, startled by my cries, ran toward me.

      Wesley, who chanced to be nearest, was in time to see the agitation of the water, which had not yet entirely calmed, but for all else they were obliged to be content with my story. The head which had appeared to me was that of a full-blooded negro, of gigantic size, or so it appeared to me, surmounted by a heavy, bushy growth of wool, which stood out above and at the sides, as I have seen it worn sometimes by highly stylish colored barbers at home, giving the whole somewhat the form of a magnified mushroom. The hair or wool appeared to have been dyed of a brick-red color, and the whites of the eyes that glared at me out of that diabolical head itself, and the cavernous mouth and gums in which they were set, appeared from their horrible redness to be bathed in blood. Beyond the natural blowing off and inspiration of breath on first rising no sound had issued from the head, save a low grunt at the moment when the looks right and left had taken in the knowledge that other human beings besides me were present.

      I was, of course, the lion of the hour, though Mr. Andrews, at first, doubted if I had seen anything at all, and even insisted that I had fallen asleep, and had a horrible dream. But the boatsteerer was sure that he had seen the agitation of the water where the something had gone down, it was not probable that I had thrown anything into the creek, and quite certain that I had not fallen in myself. My description of the head was found to agree well with all the descriptions we had heard of the savages in New Guinea, Erromanga, Tanna, and other islands in that quarter of the Pacific.

      A long conference or council of war then ensued, in which Wesley was the chief spokesman. After a good deal of flourish about mermaids, Old Neptune, David Jones, Banquo's ghost, and other supernatural marvels, he came to the sensible conclusion that I had seen a real savage in the flesh, and the only explanation must be that the lee portion of the island was inhabited, and that there was a connection between the two by a submarine passage.

      Of course we had no idea of the thickness of the wall of rock; we only know that it was perpendicular on our side of it, and there was no chance of an enemy dropping down upon us unawares, but we had never before thought of the possibility of invading armies rushing out from under it, to swarm upon us up the creek bank. And there were two sides to the question whether in case of such invasion we had better meet them with hostile weapons, or await their coming with the olive-branch in our hands. If we succeeded in driving them back by force, we might only be calling down upon our heads the vengeance of overwhelming numbers, who would come by sea to attack us, for of course they must have plenty of canoes. Who ever heard of South-Sea islanders without some kind of safe, sea-going boats, even though they are obliged, in many cases, to build them of a hundred little pieces of wood, lashing them closely together?

      It was determined to keep a watch patrolling the beach and the bridge, while the rest slept on their arms, and ready for a call. In the event of all hands being roused we should be ready either to fight or to temporize as circumstances might require, but we

558 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

were to await the mate's orders, and not to attack until the word was given.

      But the alarm signal that night came not from our sentries. All was quiet until into the small hours of the morning, for we had no time-keepers among us, and were obliged to guess at the hour, when, in the midst of the most perfect stillness, an earthquake shock brought every man to his feet, shaking the island from its very foundation. A series of rumbling and grating sounds followed the first great terror, and then, when the air we breathed seemed charged with sulphurous vapor, and the sea around us flashed in the darkness like a boiling pot, another terrific shock was felt, and we seemed to be borne aloft for a moment, while the water-level settled rapidly in the creek, and the waves receded from the shore. Then again all was quiet, and as still as the grave; but, partially stunned and nearly asphyxiated by the noxious vapors, we dared not trust the evidence of our senses as to what had happened, until daylight broke, and, as the air gradually cleared, the sun soon rose from his ocean-bed in all the glory that had attended his course on the day before.

      We still stood on the same coral bank, with the same familiar land-marks around us, but the sea-line was way out half way to the barrier reef, and the surface of the creek many feet below us, while the great central wall of rock, the back-bone of the whole structure, appeared exactly the same as before, its relation to the lower land remaining entirely undisturbed. The whole island had been lifted during the night, pushed bodily upward fifteen feet, the actual distance being indicated by the old and new water lines on the side walls of the creek, which was now like a canal cut square downward through a hill. The barrier to windward was itself another island of a respectable height, and even the bottom of the channel through which we had entered was now high and dry, save where a heavy roller at times submerged it.

      "Look there!" exclaimed Wesley, who stood peering down into the canal. "Here's the underground railroad! See the tunnel where our black friend came in yesterday!" The top of the arch formed by this cavern or natural tunnel was even now only about five feet above the surface, showing that it must have been ten feet under water on the previous day. Its width was rather less than that distance, so that a man might swim and turn round in it, but two men swimming abreast would have been crowded. By listening on the bank above, we could now distinctly hear various sounds, indicating the presence of many men at the further extremity of the passage. Here now was communication opened by direct route, between the rival kingdoms, with no necessity either of swimming down in submarine grottoes, or of making a long circuit by sea.

      We must soon be brought into contact with our savage neighbors, and what would be our best policy under the circumstances? With our advantages of position, we could make battle at the mouth of the tunnel like Leonidas against the Persian invaders at Thermopylae; but we must never be off guard a moment night or day, and what were our six lives against such fearful odds? for the tribe might number some hundreds, nay, thousands, for aught we knew. Would it not be better to take our chance of the tender mercies of these barbarians, try to make friends with them, and get through to the lee side of the island? Once there, we might stand a better chance of being taken on board some passing ship, – that is, if our black friends did not take a notion to knock us over the head with stones, or impale as upon their spear-points.

      The sound of loud outcries came to us from time to time, while we were considering these points, and we judged from this fact that the savages might be in a state of indecision similar to our own. We kept a sharp watch upon the opening, and listened intently to detect the sound of any approaching canoe; but the day wore on, hour after hour, until the sun was high overhead, and no one came, though still the clamor and excitement appeared to continue, breaking forth at intervals. As the noon hour passed by the voices increased, and seemed to take the form of wails and lamentations, from which we judged they might be mourning for some members of the tribe who had lost their lives during the volcanic operations in the night. But suddenly there came to our ears the muffled thud of an explosion unlike any of those which had attended those great natural phenomena.

      "That's no earthquake, nor volcano!" roared old Ripley, as a second report precisely like the former followed in a few seconds. "It's a gun! and you may bet your lives it's fired from a ship!"

      And now the clamor increased, and from the approaching sounds we knew that there were human beings coming through the subterranean passage. They came on and on, the din of voices increased, showing that the tunnel was full of them, while the snap of the guns followed each other in quick and regular succession. What could be going on? We stood with our little force divided, two on each bank of the creek, and the remaining two on the connecting bridge, which still remained in place, having been only slightly disturbed by the uplifting of the island, and thus, with our whale-lancer and harpoons ready for use, we could have sent down death to ten times our own number,

A Haunted Island. 559

had we thought it expedient to do so. The head of a climax, and the naked forms of the whole two hundred, writhed and quivered like so many hob-goblins. At this movement, the ship-of-war, for such we had decided she must be, let drive a whole broadside at once in place of single guns as heretofore, and the din of mingled sounds was quite deafening, but by this time we all understood the mate's plan, and were ready to act at the signal.

      "Stand by, boys! the admiral is coming!" roared Wesley, who stood on the bridge, a bright harpoon ready for a dart, while the rest of us, having laid aside our weapons, were grasping the bight of the line at a proper distance, to give him a clear swing, and not to snub her too soon.

      The long, ornamented head of the canoe appeared, and with unerring aim, the boatsteerer threw his iron, or rather drove it straight downward, exactly at the right moment, transfixing her right through the quick-work of her bow, or what whalemen would call her head-sheets. Thus suddenly arrested, as five pairs of strong arms snubbed the line, the only anxiety being not to check too short for fear of tearing out the harpoon, the canoe swung round presently entirely at our mercy. The savages in the bow dared make no attempt to clear the harpoon, for Wesley, when the harpoon left his hand, had secured a long lance which he now used with such persuasive effect that the royal retinue and family, one after another, and finally the monarch himself, more ugly and hideous than any one of his subjects, jumped overboard in mortal terror, and made their way to other canoes further on.

      "Now's your time, boys! Jump, all!" and in a moment more the whole six of us were in the creek, and scrambling over the sides of the great royal canoe, which was big enough to carry three times our numbers. We had thrown our own boat-paddles down ahead of us, anticipating that the savages would carry off theirs when they fled for their lives, and in a moment more the craft was shooting back into the tunnel the way she had come. A few strong and rapid strokes carried us through, for the distance was not more than fifty yards, and as we glided out into the sunlight again, a scene of enchanting beauty lay spread out before us like a panorama. The lee portion of the island was much larger than that upon which we had landed, and was everywhere teeming with tropical luxuriance. The fruits of the earth flourishing spontaneously were ample to have sustained two thousand people instead of two hundred, the neat huts of the village were set at intervals in a perfect bower around the concave of the little bay, the cocoanut-trees growing vigorously even down to the edge of the water. The place was quite a little paradise, but our eyes did not stay to rest long upon it, for there, close under the lee of the reef outside, lay a sloop-of-war with her broadside bearing directly upon us, and the British flag displayed at her peak. She had ceased firing now, and two boats filled with armed men were approaching as if to take possession of the deserted town by right of conquest. The English crew were struck with astonishment on our appearance, and still more so at the relation of our strange story; and the whole party, following up the bank of the canal, which extended all the way through the island, met the waters of the bay on the lee side, examined for themselves the archway of the strange tunnel, through which the frightened barbarians had fled. No great harm had been done to the place beyond demolishing a hut or two, and knocking over or breaking down a few trees, by way of showing the people what could be done by the power of bullets. Indeed the English lieutenant informed us that nearly all the firing we had heard was only blank cartridges, the object being to inflict just a little injury, and give the savages a terrible scare.

      The sloop-of-war was the Daphne,and she had been sent by the admiral of the Pacific squadron with orders to give the savages a little idea of British power by way of warning. Several difficulties had occurred between the crews of English traders and the natives of this island, which was known on the charts as Arganua, and also as Backbone Island, from its peculiar conformation. No lives had been sacrificed on either side, but some English seamen had been taken prisoners and held for ransom, and other annoyances, though perhaps there was equal blame on both sides, hence the mission of the Daphne.

      Captain Baxter told us that although he must carry out the letter of the admiral's orders, he desired to avoid bloodshed, and was glad the blacks had found such a rathole of escape as the tunnel which we had discovered. We should leave them to return to their homes at their leisure, and hoped the fright caused by his guns would prove a salutary lesson to them. Before leaving, however, he went on shore himself, and inspected with great interest and curiosity the results of the volcanic changes the night before. At that time the shocks had been but slightly felt on board the Daphne, she being then nearly a hundred miles southward of the island, and no great importance had been attached to the fact.

      After a short cruise in the British man-of-war, visiting other islands, and making the acquaintance with more tribes of South-Sea Africans, we arrived at Sydney, where to

560 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

our surprise and joy we found our own ship the Ontario, and were soon exchanging explanations with our old shipmates. I have heard from other mariners that Backbone Island has disappeared from the charts now, and there can be no doubt that by some latter natural convulsion it has been totally swallowed up in the ocean.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Haunted Island.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 54, No. 6 (Dec 1881)
Pages: 553-560