Dillon, Peter. Narrative and Successful Result of a Voyage in the South Seas Performed by the Order of the Government of British India, to Ascertain the Actual Fate of La Pérouse's Expedition. London, Hurst, Chance, and Co., 1829. Volume 2, pp. 91-107.
Aug. 31st., 1827--Very strong trades throughout the day. Latitude observed at noon 12° 25' S., longitude 178° 36' E. This situation would give the ship's distance at noon from Rothuma Island ninety-one miles, if it be laid down correctly, its situation in the charts, nautical tables, and Naval Gazetteer being 12° 30' S., and 177° E. longitude. At 8 P.M. inhauled small sails and up courses, so as not to reach the island before daylight, our distance from its situation being thirty-six miles. At 11:30 P.M. the island of Rothuma was seen from the deck, bearing S.W. by W.
1st September--Moderate trades with cloudy weather. Shortly after daybreak we set all plain sail and stood in for the land, which had a beautiful verdant appearance, with plantations and houses from the seaside to the summit of the highest hills. Close to the beach several large houses were strewed, at short distances, among the cocoa-nut and bread-fruit trees.
On approaching the north-east point of the island we perceived two small islets extending from the shore about a mile, and connected with it by a reef of rocks. From behind these isles two canoes came out, paddled by twelve or thirteen men each. We shortened sail and allowed them to come up, when in one of them we found an Englishman named Parker. I allowed him, with the chief under whose protection he lived, to come on board. The chief embraced the Rothuma man whom I had brought with me from Tonga, and appeared much rejoiced and pleased with me for returning him to his native country, where, as he had now been absent about eight years, he was supposed by all his friends to have been lost at sea.
When those persons came on board, I made sail to the westward along the north side of the island, and found that an American whaler had been to anchor there as late as the 17th of the preceding month to the westward of the two small islands extending off from the north-east part of the main island.
I stood on until I got within a mile of the shore, and a mile and a half to the eastward of a bay that runs in near to the west point of the island. Here I had soundings in seventeen fathoms soft mud bottom, and to all appearances excellent holding ground. I then stood off to the northward, and sounded in twenty-three fathoms (bottom as above), with the high island to the north of the west point of the main island, bearing per compass S.W. one mile and a half, distance from the main island two miles.
I am of opinion that in most places, at from one mile and a half to two miles from the shore, between the north and east points of the island and the west point, there is anchorage in from seventeen to twenty-five fathoms, good ground; and admitting that the wind should come from the northward, a vessel could make sail and stand out to the eastward or the westward, between the main island and three islands situated to the north of the west point of the main. The names of those islands are the High-peaked Island, a low flat island, and the Cleft Island. Keeping those islands on the starboard, and the main island on the larboard side, steer through the channel to the westward, which is clear of all dangers. Keep at the distance of from a half to three-quarters of a mile from the main island. The narrowest part of the channel is full two miles wide, that is, between the High-peaked Island and the main island. Between the main island and the outer islands the channel is four or five miles wide.
I understood from Parker that there were no runs of water on the island, and that the natives were obliged to procure that necessary from the wells made in each village. He informed me that he watered the last ship which lay there, and produced the captain's certificate to that effect. He also stated that about eight months ago he watered another whaler, which lay at anchor near the bay towards the west end of the island. Hence it appeared that abundance of water could be obtained from the wells on shore.
The natives told this man that about eight or ten years ago the island was visited by a dreadful tempest, which committed such ravages among their cocoa-nut trees and plantations as to cause a famine. In consequence of this, all the hogs on the island were destroyed, and even the very breed became extinct for some years, until at length they were again supplied from the whalers with a fresh stock. Their numbers are now increasing, and there may be about one hundred pigs on the islands; but so careful are the natives of them, that no inducement can prevail upon them to part with one. I gave Parker a young Tonga boar and sow to breed from; and had the island possessed gold mines, for this single present, if I had arrived here at the proper time, I might have realized the splendid fortune of the celebrated Whitington.
The products of this island are small yams, a kind of large sweet potatoe, cocoa-nuts, bananas, sugar-canes, taro, and the common barn-door fowl, and at certain seasons of the year the bread-fruit abounds; but generally the productions of the island are not abundant; and this small spot being so thickly populated, the surplus produce is but inconsiderable at all times.
The natives barter their commodities chiefly for whales' teeth, tortoise-shells, glass beads, cutlery, and small axes. With the whales' teeth and tortoise-shells they ornament their clubs, spears, &c., and make neck and ear-ornaments of bits of turtle shell, which among them are valued as gold with us.
The island is divided into six districts, each ruled by its own chief. These meet in congress every six months, when they elect a president and deliberate upon state affairs, hearing and settling grievances without having recourse to arms. Thus intensive broils seldom occur, and when they are inevitable, are not very sanguinary. Parker, who has been upon the island about four years, estimates that during the period not more than forty lives have been lost in battle. It sometimes happens that the president does not wish to resign his post at the expiration of six months; when, rather than quarrel, they allow him to exceed the time appointed by law: but should he persist in a further maintenance of his power, the other chiefs league together, and compel him by force of arms to retire.
The people seem to belong to the same race as the Friendly Islanders, but the females are not, in my opinion, either so cleanly or handsome as those of Tongataboo. They are generally besmeared with a mixture of turmeric and cocoa nut oil, which gives them a reddish appearance. Both men and women wear their hair long, and hanging in ringlets down the back and shoulders. It is coloured according to each person's fancy, sometimes white, purple, or red; which colours are produced by the use of lime made from burnt shells, the bark of the mangrove tree, and a kind of ashes of burnt roots and limes. No restraint is placed on the inclinations of single or unmarried females: they may confer their favours on whomever they please; but if caught sinning after marriage, woe to the unfortunate lover! his punishment is instant death.
We had several canoes off, each navigated by ten, twelve, or fifteen hands. These canoes are built much after the shape of those at the Friendly Islands, but are by no means so neat in their construction and workmanship. The articles brought off for barter were principally cocoa-nuts, some very fine mats, a few fowls, a dozen yams, two or three baskets of potatoes, and eighteen or twenty young girls, who, as I afterwards understood, were willing to avail themselves of the privileges which they enjoyed in single blessedness. On seeing the New Zealand girls, they entered the ship without hesitation and embraced them tenderly. Several of them volunteered to join us in the expedition, and seemed much disappointed on learning that there was not room for any more than those on board.
The two Tonga men and the young woman sent by Fuckafinnow, the chief of Mafanga, were disappointed at the scanty appearance of the supplies brought off for sale in the canoes, and on learning that the tribute for which they had come sailed for Tonga bout five months ago, by the way of the Feejees, they said that they had rather die on board of sea-sickness than go ashore to be starved, as they were certain it was a hungry land, from the small samples of provisions brought off for sale. The length of time they would have to remain in this island really terrified them; perhaps four or five years before another fleet should sail for Tonga: so that they resolved to stop in the ship until I could put them on board some whaler in this neighbourhood, which would return to the whaling station off Tonga in May, June, July, or August, those being the months in which they sailed for that quarter each year. Being short of my complement of men I consented to take them with me, considering they would be eminently useful now that I was near my place of destination.
The natives of Rothuma have as great an itching for theft as the rest of their neighbours in the South Sea Islands. While sitting conversing in the Feejee tongue with one of their chiefs and Parker, a man who was standing in a canoe laying alongside, put his hand into the port, and drew from one of the guns its iron crowbar; but on seeing that I observed him he let it go; on which I drew my sword and struck him a blow on the head with the flat side of it. This caused his friends to push off from the ship, which the chief and Parker observing, intreated me to order the sentries to shoot him and all in the canoe. I however declined availing myself of this permission of the chief, but discharged a musket myself, in such a way that the ball fell a little beyond the canoe, thus showing the chief that it was not from want of power to reach him that I suffered him to escape.
I was anxious to know, and inquired the cause of the chief's desire to have this man shot, who thus accounted for it. "We have", said he, "several thieves on shore, who when we visit the land and houses of other chiefs accompanying our train, and having committed thefts, endeavour to escape. If they succeed, the offended person and his party fall upon that to which they belong, and sometimes punish them with death. Now if this man had got the piece of iron away you might have killed me, therefore I wished you to kill him who by his escape would have endangered my life, since I am in your power."
In January 1826, while in the St. Patrick, at anchor in the Thames at New Zealand, I was informed by Captain Bren, the master of a whaler, that a whale-ship called the Rochester of London, commanded by Captain Worth, had touched at Rothuma for refreshments in 1823, where the crew were mutinous and disorderly, and gave the captain and his officers much trouble in preserving order on board. Several of them attempted to desert, but were prevented by the captain's vigilance. While laying to off Rothuma on the whaling station, the captain's brother-in-law, a young man named Young, who had charge of the watch on deck, with the carpenter's mate, Parker, and four others, lowered down a whale-boat with all her whaling tackle, robbed the ship of her arms and various other articles, and made off to Rothuma, where the natives received them kindly. Each married two or three wives, according to the custom of the country, and have now large families growing up.
Shortly after Parker (one of the mutineers) had come on board this morning, he was followed by Young, the captain's brother-in-law; and not withstanding these men's characters were so bad, I had no alternative left but to employ them as pilots and interpreters. I also tolerated them, with the view of gleaning such information from them as, if they had but common sense, they ought to have been possessed of, regarding the winds, tides, customs, manners and rites, of the inhabitants, after a residence among them of four years.
Three of the men who were associated with Young and Parker in plundering the Rochester have since left this island in different whalers, and their places on shore have been supplied by three deserters from the ship which was at anchor off the island on the 17th ultimo. Two other Europeans came alongside in a canoe and begged leave to come on board; which I refused, asking them how they could presume to desire such a favour, having deserted their own ship in this remote part of the globe.
About this time, through the mismanagement of its steersman, a canoe was upset, in which were two females. The men and one of the ladies swam well, and endeavoured to right the canoe; but the other, who could not swim, was nearly exhausted when taken up by her companions.
Not wishing to lose time, I bore away at half past one o'clock for Tucopia. At a quarter before two the high-peaked island bore S. by E. one or two miles. This island, with a high bluff head on the main, which forms the west point of the bay, running in from the west, are the highest parts of the Rothuma Islands. At 6 P.M. we were distant from the peaked island twenty-five miles: it was then a quarter or more above the level of the horizon, and I doubt not might have been seen thirty-five or forty miles off in clear wreather. The east side of the main island is moderately high, and may be seen at the distance of thirty miles.
The ship which first visited, or rather discovered this island, was the Pandora frigate, Captain I. Edwards, in August 1791, when in search of the mutineers belonging to his Britannic Majesty's sloop of war Bounty. The next vessel which visited them was the missionary ship Duff, in September 1797. From this period, I believe, these eslands were not visited either by British or foreign flags, until late in 1814, about which time a Calcutta Brig, called the Campbell Macquarie, commanded by Captain R. Siddons, touched there on his way from the Feejee Islands to Port Jackson.
Captain Siddons found a Rothuma man at Nanpacab, a town of the Feejees, who had been drifted there some years before in a canoe, with some others of his countrymen. This person describes his island as abounding with supplies of hogs, fowls, yams, &c.; and Captain Siddons, being in want of such refreshments, received the man on board as a passenger, and conveyed him to Rothuma. He had also in the Campbell Macquarie a very old Sandwich islander, well known at Port Jackson by the name of Babahey, who had been for many years employed out of Sydney as an interpreter to the north-west coast of America, the Sandwich Islands, Otaheita, and the Feejees. He was always accounted a faithful servant. He sailed under my command in the Active brig, of Calcutta, when she was employed to take missionaries to New Zealand, and left me at sea to join the Campbell Macquarie. Babahey finding his end approaching fast begged of Captain Siddons to allow him to remain at Rothuma: which the latter complied with, furnishing him with many necessaries when he put him on the shore there. I considered it a duty to inquire after my old shipmate, he being a man for whom I had some regard, and was sorry to learn that he had died about eight years ago of a decline, leaving a daughter behind him on the island, who is now twelve years old.
The Rothumans give an account of several islands being in their neighbourhood, one of which they name Vythuboo. As this island abounds with a kind of white shells much in demand at Rothuma, the natives of that island make frequent voyages to Vythuboo for the purpose of procuring them; and it is in these voyages that these people get lost at sea, and are drifted to the Feejees, Tucopia, and the Navigators' Islands. They describe the inhabitants of one of the islands in their neighbourhood as cannibals, marked or tattooed on the face like the Nev Zealanders on board. Those islands I suppose to be what are laid down and named on the charts as Ellis's and Depestre's Groups, discovered by Captain Depestre in 1819, on his return from South America to Calcutta. There are at present residing at Rothuma some natives of Vythuboo and of the Newy Islands, who expect to sail homeward in a few weeks.
I could learn but little from Parker and Young as to the state of the winds, weather and tides. I inquired if they had not a rainy season, and if north-west and west winds did not prevail at that season. In reply they stated, that here all seasons of the year were alike; that there had been no westwardly winds since they had resided on the island; but that it sometimes became calm, and continued so for several days. With respect to the tides, they said that there was but little variation in the height of them at Rothuma, and that even at springs it did not rise more than two or three feet.
But not withstanding the assertions of these men, who I believe to have been so ignorant as not to know or be capable of judging from what point of the compass the wind blows, I am clearly of the opinion that westerly winds prevail at certain seasons of the year: otherwise how could the men whom I brought from Tongataboo have reached the Navigators' Isles, at a distance of six hundred and eight miles to windward of Rothuma, if he had not westerly winds to take him there. From the Navigators' Islands he got to Tonga in one of Thubow's canoes. This man is a chief of no importance at Rothuma.
The following circumstances, which further support my assumption on this point, come within my personal knowledge, and will, I think, prove, or go a great way towards it, that there does exist a north-west or west monsoon in these regions between the latitude of 12° S. and the equator at a certain season of the year. While laying in Valpariso Bay in June 1824, the American whaler Globe, of Nantucket, entered the port with a signal of distress hoisted. I went on board of her in company with the American consul and several other gentlemen. He found a young lad named Smith in command of the ship, and the crew consisted of three other youths and a man aged about twenty-five years. Smith informed us that the crew had mutinied in the January before, and murdered the captain and three mates, and then made the best of their way to Lord Mulgrave's Range (in latitude between 5° and 10° N., and between 170° and 175° E. Longitude), where they brought the ship to an anchor. The ring leaders in the mutiny and murderers began to discharge the ship of all her valuables, and to erect tents on shore among the native huts. One night, while all the accomplices in the mutiny were in a state of intoxication and riot at their new abode on shore, except one whom they had left on board the ship, Smith with the three other lads secured this mutineer below; they then cut the cable and made sail to the westward, until they were out of reach of their old ship-mates. They afterwards hauled on a wind upon the larboard tack, and stood to the southward until they crossed the line, where they met with westerly and north-westerly winds, which enabled them to sight the Navigators' Isles without making a tack, the centre of them being in latitude 13° 50' S. and longitude 171° 30' W.
I shall conclude my account of the Rothumans by stating that they are remarkably kind to Europeans, as well as to all other strangers, nor have they ever been known to molest any of their foreign visitors. Persons from ship may land with the greatest safety, so far as regards their persons and wearing apparel, but it is not unlikely that they may be robbed of iron tools, there being very little of that grand desideratum among the islanders. Before I arrived they had only four axes among them: my passenger the Rothuman added another, which with four implements of the same kind which I left, made a total of nine. There is not a saw on the whole island; and their principal ironmongery consists of iron hoops, procured from British and American whalers that have touched here to refresh within the last five or six years.
Being aware that the King of France's corvette the Astrolabe, Captain Dumont d'Urville, was not far distant, and might on her way from the Feejees touch at Rothuma, I left a letter with Parker for her commander, informing that gentleman of the objects of my expedition, and directing him to follow me to Tucopia, where he would hear further from me.
The situation assigned to Rothuma in late charts and nautical tables I found to be correct.