Arrived at the Settlement. Matthews gave so bad an account of the conduct of the Fuegians that the Captain advised him to return to the ship. From the moment of our leaving, a regular system of plunder commenced, in which not only Matthews, but York & Jemmy suffered. Matthews had nearly lost all his things; & the constant watching was most harassing & entirely prevented him from doing anything to obtain food, &c. Night & day large parties of the natives surrounded his house. They tried to tire him out by making incessant noises.
One day, having requested an old man to leave the place, he returned with a large stone in his hand: Another day, a whole party advanced with stones & stakes, & some of the younger men & Jemmy’s brother were crying. Matthews thought it was only to rob him & he met them with presents. I cannot help thinking that more was meant. They showed by signs they would strip him & pluck all the hairs out of his face & body. I think we returned just in time to save his life. The perfect equality of all the inhabitants will for many years prevent their civilization: even a shirt or other article of clothing is immediately torn into pieces. Until some chief rises, who by his power might be able to keep to himself such presents as animals &c, &c., there must be an end to all hopes of bettering their condition. It would not have been so bad if all the plunder had remained in one family or tribe. But there was a constant succession of fresh canoes, & each one returned with something. Jemmy's own relations were absolutely so foolish & vain, as to show to strangers what they had stolen & the method of doing it.
It was quite melancholy leaving our Fuegians amongst their barbarous countrymen: there was one comfort; they appeared to have no personal fears. But, in contradiction of what has often been stated, 3 years has been sufficient to change savages, into, as far as habits go, complete & voluntary Europeans. York, who was a full grown man & with a strong violent mind, will I am certain in every respect live as far as his means go, like an Englishman. Poor Jemmy, looked rather disconsolate, & certainly would have liked to have returned with us; he said "they were all very bad men, no 'sabe' nothing". Jemmys own brother had been stealing from him as Jemmy said, "what fashion do you call that". I am afraid whatever other ends their excursion to England produces, it will not be conducive to their happiness. They have far too much sense not to see the vast superiority of civilized over uncivilized habits; & yet I am afraid to the latter they must return.
We took Matthews, & some of the clothes, which he had buried, in the boat & made sail. The Captain, to save time determined to go to the South & outside of Navarin Island, instead of our returning by the Beagle channel. We slept at night in the S. entrance of Ponsonby Sound.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
At daybreak were again hastening towards Woollӯa. As we shot through the Murray Narrow several parties of natives were seen, who were ornamented with strips of tartan cloth or white linen, which we well knew were obtained from our poor friends. No questions were asked; we thought our progress slow, though wind and tide favoured us: but, hurrying on, at noon reached Woollӯa. Several canoes were on the beach, and as many natives seemed to be assembled as were there two days before we left the place. All were much painted, and ornamented with rags of English clothing, which we concluded to be the last remnants of our friends' stock. Our boats touched the shore; the natives came hallooing and jumping about us, and then, to my extreme relief, Matthews appeared, dressed and looking as usual. After him came Jemmy and York, also dressed and looking well: Fuegia, they said, was in a wigwam.
Taking Matthews into my boat, we pushed out a short distance to be free from interruption, and remained till I had heard the principal parts of his story: the other boat took Jemmy on board, and York waited on the beach. Nearly all the Fuegians squatted down on their hams to watch our proceedings, reminding me of a pack of hounds waiting for a fox to be unearthed.
Matthews gave a bad account of the prospect, which he saw before him, and told me, that he did not think himself safe among such a set of utter savages as he found them to be, notwithstanding Jemmy's assurances to the contrary. No violence had been committed beyond holding down his head by force, as if in contempt of his strength; but he had been harshly threatened by several men, and from the signs used by them, he felt convinced they would take his life.
During the last few days, his time had been altogether occupied in watching his property. At first there were only a few quiet natives about him, who were inoffensive; but three days after our departure several canoes full of strangers to Jemmy's family arrived, and from that time Matthews had had no peace by day, and very little rest at night. Some of them were always on the look-out for an opportunity to snatch up and run off with some tool or article of clothing, and others spent the greater part of each day in his wigwam, asking for every thing they saw, and often threatening him when he refused to comply with their wishes. More than one man went out in a rage, and returned immediately with a large stone in his hand, making signs that he would kill Matthews if he did not give him what was demanded. Sometimes a party of them gathered round Matthews, and, if he had nothing to give them, teased him by pulling the hair of his face, pushing him about, and making mouths at him. His only partisans were the women; now and then he left Jemmy to guard the hut, and went to the natives' wigwams, where the women always received him kindly, making room for him by their fire, and giving him a share of whatever food they had, without asking for any thing in return. The men never took the trouble of going with him on these visits (which, however, ceased when so many strangers arrived), their attention being engrossed by the tools, clothes, and crockery-ware at our shipmate's quarters.
Fortunately, the most valuable part of Matthews' own things were underground, in a cave unsuspected by the natives, and other large tools were hidden overhead in the roof of his hut. York and Fuegia fared very well; they lost nothing; but Jemmy was sadly plundered, even by his own family. Our garden, upon which much labour had been bestowed, had been trampled over repeatedly, although Jemmy had done his best to explain its object and prevent people from walking there. When questioned about it, he looked very sorrowful, and, with a slow shake of the head, said, “My people very bad; great fool; know nothing at all; very great fool.”
It was soon decided that Matthews should not remain. I considered that he had already undergone a severe trial, and ought not to be again exposed to such savages, however willing he might be to try them farther if I thought it right. The next difficulty was how to get Matthews' chest and the remainder of his property safely into our boats, in the face of a hundred Fuegians, who would of course understand our object, and be much more than a match for us on land; but the less hesitation shown, the less time they would have to think of what we were about; so, dividing our party, and spreading about a little to create confidence — at a favourable moment the wigwam was quickly cleared, the cave emptied, and the contents safely placed in our boats. As I stood watching the proceedings, a few anxious moments passed, for any kind of skirmish would have been so detrimental to the three who were still to remain. When the last man was embarked, I distributed several useful articles, such as axes, saws, gimblets, knives and nails, among the natives, then bade Jemmy and York farewell, promising to see them again in a few days, and departed from the wondering throng assembled on the beach.
When fairly out of sight of Woollӯa, sailing with a fair wind towards the Beagle, Matthews must have felt almost like a man reprieved, excepting that he enjoyed the feelings always sure to reward those who try to do their duty, in addition to those excited by a sudden certainty of his life being out of jeopardy. We slept that night in a cove under Webley Head.
Syms Covington’s Journal:
On the return of the boats, which had been absent about a week, we found the missionary and the three Indians stripped of nearly all they had by the Indians, with the exception of a few things they had put under ground, and even the place that had been cultivated, had their plants torn up, and likewise ill treated the missionary to make him discover where were the remainder of the utensils. By the hostile appearance of the Indians, it was thought proper our countryman come back to the ship, which was done, and the three Indians were left with their own countrymen.