FitzRoy & myself went on shore. The object was to wait for a deed signed by the Queen & two principal chiefs stating how much of the required sum was paid & their determination immediately to collect the remainder. — In the course of the day we paid two visits to the Queen in her house, which I must need say is a most paltry place. — In the evening dined with Mr Pritchard, whom I regret I had not time to become better ackquainted with, & afterwards we went on board the Ship, which was under weigh waiting for us in the offing, In the evening with a gentle land breeze a course was steered for New Zealand, & as the Sun set we took a farewell look at the mountains of Tahiti, — the island to which every traveller has offered up his tribute of admiration.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
At daylight this morning some of us visited the school. As I had heard of 'compulsion' and other absurdities, I went early to get there before Mr. Pritchard arrived, without having hinted at such an intention.
About the large chapel or church, groups of elderly and old people were sitting by threes and fours in a place, helping each other to read the New Testament. While one read the others listened, and, if able, corrected him. One man not less than fifty years of age, was learning to read, with spectacles. Some came in, others went out, just as they chose, for there was not any one even to watch them till Mr. Pritchard came: and during about an hour after sunrise, every day, those people, both women and men, thus instructed one another, previous to beginning their daily out-of-door labours.
In the school-house I found a number of children, waiting for their teacher, who soon arrived and gave them their tasks. The greater part of them wrote sentences on slates from his dictation, with ease and correctness. One sentence he gave them was, 'the captain wishes you happiness,' which they wrote instantly, and some of their own accord added, 'and we wish happiness to the captain.' The handwriting of many, indeed most of the elder girls and boys, was very good: and to verbal questions they replied readily. They seemed to be in good discipline, and yet a merrier or more cheerful looking set of children I never saw. A hymn excellently, or, I ought perhaps to say, prettily sung, ended their attendance.
Returning by way of the church, I saw Hitote, his brother, and other chiefs, engaged in eager discussion. Mr. Pritchard and I went in: "You are just come in time," said they, "we are disputing about the lightning conductors on board the Beagle, and cannot determine whether they end in the ship's hold, or whether they go through her bottom, into the water." Mr. Pritchard explained: a momentary pause ensued—each seemed trying to understand the puzzling subject; when a shrewd old man, hitherto a quiet listener, remarked—"you white men are wonderfully clever, you know and do most things, I wish some of you (passing his hand over his chin in a drolly rueful manner) I wish some of you would tell us how to rid our faces of these troublesome beards!" (He had just been shaved).
The rapidity with which intelligence is communicated among savage, or partially civilised nations, has often been remarked: but I do not remember meeting with an explanation, till Mr. Nott told me it was passed verbally—from one to another—each man calling to his neighbour. No method could be speedier, where a population is numerous; as at Otaheite or New Zealand, when Cook was there.
In the course of the morning I waited upon the queen to inform her that the Beagle was then going out of the port; and that I waited only for her commands, and the letter she had promised: upon which she sent for her secretary and the chiefs; when we left her for a time. Two of the persons who had been on board our vessel the previous evening, sent me letters this morning, which are so peculiar and interesting, in many points of view, that I here insert them.
Translation of a letter from 'Mare,' one of the seven supreme judges of Otaheite; written in a round distinct hand, in his own language, and directed to me.
"Tahiti, Nov. 26, 1835.
"To you the officer of King William!
"May the peace of God be with you. This is what I have to say to you, my dear friend. I praise you with grateful feelings in my heart for your kindness to me, an insignificant man, in giving to me a box and some other things besides. I and my wife will feel grateful to you when we look at these things. This is another thing with which I feel pleased; your having shown me the many good things on board your ship; and your men; they have great excellence, and a good character.
"That you may be saved is the wish of your servant,
A letter from Paofai, the brother of Hitote, directed to 'Fitirai,' is similar.
"Dear Friend, "Tahiti, Nov. 26, 1835.
"Peace be unto you and your family, in the name of God. These are my words to you. I feel very much gratified by your great kindness in giving me a trunk, and several other things. For this cause I thank you with grateful feelings. My wife and family will also feel grateful to you. Dear friends may the peace of the Messiah, who is the King of Peace, be with you. Amen.
Among the natives of Otaheite let us not overlook the sons and daughters of the earlier missionaries. Those whom we had the pleasure of seeing did credit to the country of their parents; to Otaheite; and to those excellent persons who must have taken such pains with their education. I presume not to speak from what I have seen only, but from the corresponding accounts of others, added to what I witnessed myself.
I will now make a few general remarks, previous to quitting the island. It did not appear to me that the men of Otaheite are separated visibly into two classes, as some accounts had led us to expect. All of the higher class, whom we saw, or about whom we could learn anything, certainly were large, but rather unwieldy: yet among the lower class there were numerous stout tall men, as tall as the chiefs, and more actively made. A few were of a middle size, and a very few, low in stature: but all well-proportioned and muscular; though their muscles are not hard and knotty, like those of a hard-working white man; they are rounded, and smooth. They stride along in an imposing manner, occasionally recalling ideas of the giants of history. Although, generally speaking, they are taller than the Patagonians, they do not, to the eye, appear so large. This ocular deception must arise from the better proportion of the Otaheitans. The native of Patagonia has a large, coarse looking head, with high cheek bones, and a 'mane-like' head of hair: his shoulders are high and square; his chest very wide; while to heighten the effect of these traits, each of which gives one an idea of size, a great rough mantle, made of the woolly skin of the guanaco, thrown loosely round his shoulders, hangs almost to his feet. But the Otaheitan head is singularly well formed; and, if phrenology is not altogether a delusion, few men are more capable of receiving instruction, or doing credit to their teachers, than these islanders, so often described, yet by no means enough known. Their hands, and more especially their feet, have been said to be of the Papua form; but the shape of the latter is owing, it appears to me, to their always going barefooted: and I observed their hands particularly without being able to distinguish any peculiarity whatever in the form.
The young men frequently wear a wreath of leaves, or flowers, round the head, which, though becoming, has rather a Bacchanalian appearance. Some cut their hair short, others shave the greater part of their head, but solely from caprice: not one could give me any reason beyond that which is implied in "it is the fashion."
It is seldom that one meets a native entirely naked; I mean naked excepting the girdle which is always worn: generally they have a garment, or a piece of one, obtained from a white man. These remnants, often tattered, and, among the lower classes, always dirty, disfigure them much. Those whom I saw, with only a native girdle, but whose bodies were tattowed in the old fashion, appeared to my eye much less naked than the young men, not tattowed, and only half clothed. I shall not forget the very unpleasant impression made upon my mind, at first landing, by seeing a number of females, and children, with a few men, half dressed in the scanty, dirty, and tattered scraps of clothing, which they unfortunately prefer to their native dress. A woman, who has around her waist a substantial native garment, which falls as low as the calf of the leg; and over her shoulders, folding in front across the bosom, a mantle, or cloak, of similar material—appears to the eye of a stranger much more decently dressed than the hasty lover of novelty; who seems proud of a dirty cotton gown, tied only at the neck, and fluttering in the wind. Their Sunday dresses, however, are clean and decent, though those of other days are certainly much the contrary. An under-garment alone need be added to the women's former dress of native manufacture, to make it answer every purpose. Why should not home ingenuity, and domestic industry be encouraged?
The moral conduct and character of these islanders have undergone so much discussion; so various have been the decisions, and so varying are the opinions of voyagers and residents, that I, for one, am satisfied by the conclusion, that the good and the bad are mixed in Otaheite, much as they are in other parts of the world exposed to the contamination of unprincipled people. That the missionaries have done so much, in checking and restraining depravity, is to me matter of serious reflection. But let us also remember, that the testimony of very trustworthy witnesses shews that there, even in earlier days, iniquity did not search after those who sought not her abode!
The Beagle's stay was too short to enable us to form any just conclusions. I witnessed no improprieties, neither did I see any thing that would not have inclined me to suppose (had I read or heard nothing of them), that their habits are, in most ways, better than those of many civilized nations. The missionaries have succeeded in carrying attention to religion, and general morality, to a high pitch: may they continue to succeed, in future years, and become an example to larger, older, and nominally wiser nations.
Is it not a striking fact, that the people of a whole country have solemnly refrained from drinking spirits: does not this act alone entitle them to respect, and high consideration? So sincere are they on this subject, that, a short time since, when they heard that a small vessel, lying in their harbour, had on board a cask of rum, which the master intended to sell to some of the residents, they went off to the vessel, and destroyed the obnoxious liquor.
Upon enforcing their first law on this subject, every part of each house was searched. They were very minute in their scrutiny, but overlooked a bottle of brandy, which Mr. Pritchard had kept in the house for medical purposes. After their search, when leaving him, he called them back and showed the bottle, saying for what purpose it had been kept. Some said, 'keep it for that purpose;' others said 'no, it is 'ava,'* destroy it! let us make no distinction, let us utterly discard the use of so baneful a liquor! have we not other medicines, about whose use there can be no doubt?' However, the milder party prevailed, and the brandy bottle would have preserved its contents had not Mr. Pritchard poured them on the ground before their eyes.
One horrible defect in the former character of the Otaheitans has hardly been mentioned in the earlier writers. They were unkind, and utterly inattentive to the old and infirm:—they were yet worse: they scrupled not to destroy their aged or sick, yes, even their parents, if disabled by age or by sickness.
Mr. Wilson assured me that in former times, when a person had lingered in sickness, they would carry him to the waterside, under pretence of bathing him, dig a hole, and bury him alive! Thus they ended the life of a young man who had been servant to Mr. Wilson, until he sickened, and, by the natives, was supposed to be dying. Mr. Wilson tried all he could do, in the way of medical assistance, and had hopes of his recovery, when he suddenly disappeared: and not until a long time afterwards could he ascertain the horrid cruelty of which the natives had been guilty!
That they do not even now pay that attention to infirm old age which, in our estimation, is a sacred duty, may be inferred from the following anecdote. Mr. Stokes rambled into a secluded spot near Matavai, where, surrounded by old trees, stood a small and tottering hut. On a filthy worn-out mat, lay a venerable looking old man, hardly covered by a ragged cloth. His only friend, an aged hobbling dog, limped to his side as if hoping that his example would excite some one to show compassion to the old man, his master.
The helpless state of this poor sufferer, whose legs were swollen by elephantiasis to an unwieldy bulk, and his utter destitution, induced Mr. Stokes to make immediate inquiries, and endeavour to get him relieved from some of his misery. It was ascertained that a daughter and son-in-law were usually living with him, but the new 'manuâ' had engrossed their attention, and the poor father had been left to the care of his faithful though helpless dog!
At Matavai the memory of the captain of H.M.S. 'Racoon,' known as the 'long captain,' also as 'Tapane matapo,' or 'Captain blind eye,' is still cherished. The conduct of both him and the officers of the Racoon, seems to have highly delighted all classes. How pleasant it is to hear a countryman, especially of one's own cloth, spoken of in such terms of friendship and respect, and how much that pleasure is increased when one reflects, that many years have elapsed since the conduct took place which caused these sensations.
Mr. Stokes passed some nights in Otaheitan cottages. He told me that the natives, both men and women, are extremely fond of their children, and are very kind to them. Not content with nursing and amusing them, they cram them as managers of poultry cause turkeys to be crammed, not exactly with pepper corns, or walnuts,* but with bananas and other nutritive food. At each end of the houses he visited there was a small fire, one being for the elder, the other for the younger folks; this was in the evening, at their last meal time.
Breadfruit, which had been previously roasted, and wild plantains brought from the mountains, were put to the fire to be warmed. Meanwhile cocoa-nuts were opened, their milk was poured into cups, made of empty nutshells, and handed about with the nuts. Each person had a nut and a cup of the milk, or juice. Taro-root roasted was then served, together with the bread-fruit and plantain, on leaves freshly gathered; there was also a piece of brownish yellow wood, like the rotten root of a tree, hanging up in the hut, which the people sometimes eat; it is called Ti.‡ Grace was said (a duty never omitted), and a clean, comfortable meal enjoyed by the whole party. Afterwards the fires were put out, and a queer little wooden pipe passed round. The strongest tobacco is thought the best, and they like to swallow the smoke. Sometimes, instead of tobacco, they use an indigenous herb.
Before sleeping the oldest man said prayers: one of the young men read a short portion of the New Testament, and then a hymn was sung by the whole family. A lamp was kept burning all night. A curious snuff was observed by Mr. Stokes, and from the method of using or taking it, I am inclined to think it an old custom, not imported by the white men. A substance, not unlike rhubarb in its appearance, but of a very pleasant fragrance, was rubbed on a piece of shark's skin, stretched on wood; and much it appeared to please an old man, who valued this snuff-stick so highly, that he would not part with it.
The Otaheitans are fond of going to sea, and take great interest in seeing new countries. Mr. Henry said there was no difficulty in getting a crew of natives, for boats or small vessels, provided that a promise was made to bring them back to their own island. From four to six yards of ordinary linen, or cotton cloth, with good provisions, was accounted enough remuneration for the zealous services of an able-bodied active man, during one month.
While we stayed at Otaheite we were supplied with excellent beef, and passably good vegetables; the latter however happened to be scarce. Most of the cattle belonged to the missionaries, who were trying to persuade the natives to rear them, and were beginning to succeed, though the people are fonder of their horses, of which there are a good many on the island, but ill kept and little understood.
Mr. Stokes obtained another account of the murder of the master and mate of the Truro, which says: "The master and mate of the Truro had left the northern end of Aura Island, intending to go to Otaheite; the chief of the northern district having treated them very kindly, and told them to avoid the south end of the island, because bad men lived there.
"The wind would not allow them to keep a sufficient offing; and a small canoe, with only two men, approached their boat with the apparent design of offering fruit for sale; but when near the boat they threw spears with such effect, that the white men were both killed." I place more confidence in the former account.
The seizure of a ship at Bow Island (barque Newton, of Valparaiso, under Chilian colours, though owned by British subjects), has by some persons been supposed to have been excited by Queen Pomare: but the following statement, from Mr. Middleton, who was pilot on board the ship at the time, gives a very different idea.
The master of that vessel (named Clarke) had employed some natives of Bow Island to dive for pearl oyster-shells on his account; he had agreed to pay them a certain quantity of cloth, and to give them so much provision per month. Repeated ill-treatment, and a miserable supply of provisions (at one time only one cocoa-nut each day, without any thing else), induced the natives to think of deserting him; yet they were unwilling to lose the reward of their labours, which had been very severe. One morning he had agreed to the pilot's earnest request that the natives should have more food, and had ordered a biscuit a-piece for them! Soon after the pilot, who was charged with the care of the natives, had delivered the biscuits, the master came on deck, affected to deny his orders, snatched the biscuits away from each of them, and threw them overboard! Sullen and fierce looks were exchanged; and the pilot warned Mr. Clarke that the natives would attack him, and take the vessel, if he did not alter his harsh conduct: to which he replied, by defying half a hundred of them!
A few words from the pilot, in their own language, appeased their resentment at the moment, and the brooding storm passed over; but in the course of that day, while Middleton was away getting shells, the master beat a chief. This was an unpardonable affront; they took possession of the vessel; bound all the white people; and carried them on shore.
What extraordinary mildness among savages!
When the pilot returned with his cargo of shells, he saw none of the crew; and at first hesitated to approach. But the natives seeing this, hailed him, saying, that they did not intend to hurt any one; that they were his friends; and had touched none of his things. This he found true. His own cabin was shut up—untouched; though every other place in the ship had been ransacked, and the furniture of the hull torn to pieces. They afterwards allowed the pilot to take the vessel to Otaheite, where she was sold by auction for the benefit of those who had insured her.
Obtaining the pearl oyster-shell is well known to be a difficult and dangerous employment: though the divers at the Paamuto Islands seldom go down deeper than four or five fathoms, they remain at the bottom from one to three minutes, sometimes bringing ten shells at one time to the surface; and during four or five hours they continue this extreme labour. After a long dive, blood gushes from the ears and nose; and the poor diver is quite blind during ten or twenty minutes. He may then be seen squatting on the reef, his head between his knees, and his hands spread over his face—a pitiable object: yet for the small monthly pay of ten or twelve yards of calico, or coarse linen, do those hard-working natives endure such straining exertions!
At some of the islands, a good hatchet or axe will purchase as many shells as would fill a small canoe.
In making their voyages from one island to another, the natives steer by the stars, by the direction of the wind, and the flight of birds; but their ideas of distance are extremely vague. Those who have seen a compass used in a boat esteem it highly. Middleton, who had made many voyages among the Low Islands, in whale-boats manned solely by natives, said that they always expressed astonishment at his predicting the time at which they would arrive at their destination. Sometimes they asked if he could see the land in the compass; more than once they exclaimed, "Ah, you white men! you know every thing! What simpletons we are, notwithstanding all our canoes!" The canoe occupies so much time and labour in constructing, and is so essential to their every purpose, that a fine one is to the natives of any of these islands what a three-decker is to us.
The queen's letter being finished, and sent to me by her messenger, I will give the translation made for me on the spot by Mr. Pritchard.
"Tahiti, November 26, 1835.
"To the Captain of the ship of war:
"This is what I have to say to you, before you leave us, respecting the debt. We have 2,338 dollars, which we are now taking to the person who is to receive this property, who is Mr. Bicknell. We are now collecting the remainder.
"Peace be with you,
"And with your king, William,
"(Signed) POMARE VAHINE.
"(Witnessed by) HITOTE and TAATI."
Taking leave of the queen was our next engagement. At the door of her house was a table, on which the loyal and kind-hearted natives were depositing their dollars, and fractions of dollars: to enable her to pay the debt. To me it was an affecting and an unpleasing sight,—not the proofs of loyalty and affection—Heaven forbid!—but the reflection that those individuals had in no way done wrong, and that their dollars had been hardly earned and were highly prized. To show how little a metallic currency was then understood, I may mention that many individuals wished to subscribe fractions, who could not afford a whole dollar; but they were prevented, at first, because the collector knew not how to reckon a fraction of a dollar. Mr. Pritchard easily explained this, and then the smaller coins, (rials, and two rial pieces,) were soon numerous upon the table. Frequently, while walking about the island, men had asked me to give them a dollar in exchange for its value in small coin, which, to their surprise, I was always glad to do, when I had dollars with me.
About Pomare was rather a large assemblage of maids of honour, but their postures and appearance, as they sat about upon the floor, were not the most elegant. The contrast between our own neatly dressed, and well-mannered country women, whom we had just left in the house of Mr. Pritchard, was rather striking as compared with these brown and oily Otaheitans: but our visit was not long, and we tried to make it agreeable. Returning by the beach, we talked for some time with Taati, Utaame, and others. Old Ua was there also, to thank me for some trifles sent to him by one of the queen's maidens, who had attended her when on board the Beagle; and I was glad to hear that the damsel had executed her commission in a most punctual manner.
They expressed great anxiety about the arrival of another man-of-war, with, perhaps, harsher orders: and were very desirous to know when I should arrive in England, and when they would hear from me. I endeavoured to satisfy them on these points, before Mr. Darwin and I wished them farewell (in the most earnest meaning of the word) and, after taking leave of Mr. Pritchard's family, embarked. Mare and Mr. Pritchard accompanied us to the vessel, then under sail outside the reefs,—wished us a great deal more happiness than most of us will probably enjoy, and returned with Mr. Henry and the pilot in their own boats. We made all sail, and soon lost sight of this beautiful island.