South Keeling Islands
After service I accompanied Capt. FitzRoy to the Settlement. We found on a point thickly scattered over with tall Cocoa nut trees, the town. Capt Ross & Mr Liesk live in a large barn-like house open at both ends & lined with mats made of the woven bark: the houses of the Malays are arranged along the shore of the lagoon. The whole place bore rather a desolate air, because there were no gardens to show the signs of care & cultivation. The natives come from different islands of the East Indian Archipelago, but all speak the same language; we saw inhabitants of Borneo, Celebes, Java & Sumatra. In color of the skin they resemble the Tahitians, nor widely differ from them in form of features: some of the women, however, showed a good deal of the Chinese character. I liked both their general expression & the sound of their voices. They appeared poor & their houses were destitute of furniture; but it was evident from the plumpness of the little children, that cocoa nuts & turtle afford no bad sustenance. On this island the wells occur from which ships obtain water; at first sight it appears not a little remarkable that the fresh water regularly ebbs & flows with the usual tide. We must believe that the compressed sand & porous Coral rock act like a sponge, & that the rain water which falls on the ground, being specifically lighter than the salt, merely floats on its surface & is subject to the same movements. There can be no actual attraction between salt & fresh water, & the spongy texture must tend to prevent all mixture from slight movements; on the other hand, where the land solely consists of loose fragments, a well being dug, salt or brackish water enters, of which fact we saw an instance.
After dinner we staid to see a half superstitious scene, acted by the Malay women. They dress a large wooden spoon in garments — carry it to the grave of a dead man — & then at the full of the moon they pretend it becomes inspired & will dance & jump about. After the proper preparations the spoon held by two women became convulsed & danced in good time to the song of the surrounding children & women. It was a most foolish spectacle, but Mr Liesk maintained that many of the Malays believed in its spiritual movements. The dance did not commence till the moon had risen & it was well worth remaining to behold her bright globe so quietly shining through the long arms of the Cocoa nuts, as they waved in the evening breeze. These scenes of the Tropics are in themselves so delicious, that they almost equal those dearer ones to which we are bound by each best feeling of the mind.Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
These lonely islands (also called Cocos,) were discovered in 1608-9 by Captain William Keeling, who was in the East India Company's service, and held a commission from King James I. Little or no notice was taken of them from that time till 1823, when one Alexander Hare, a British subject, established himself and a small party of Malays, upon the Southern Keeling Island, which he thought a favourable place for commerce, and for maintaining a seraglio of Malay women, whom he confined to one island,—almost to one house.
In 1826, or within a year of that time, Mr. J. C. Ross, some time master of a merchant ship, took up his abode on the south-eastern islet of the group; and in a very short time Hare's Malay slaves, aggrieved by his harsh treatment of them, especially by his taking away the women, and shutting them up on an island which the Malay men might not approach, deserted in a body, and claimed protection from Mr. Ross. Hare then left the Keelings, and about a year afterwards was arrested in his lawless career by death, while establishing another harem at Batavia.
From that time Mr. Ross and the Malays lived peaceably, collecting cocoa-nut oil, turtle, tortoise-shell, and bicho do mar; and occasionally sailing to the Mauritius, Singapore, or Batavia, to dispose of them, and buy necessaries with their produce. Another Englishman, Mr. C. Leisk, who had served as mate of Mr. Ross's ship, lived with him, and they both had wives (English) and children, the whole party residing together in a large house of Malay build—just such a structure as one sees represented upon old japanned work. At the time of our visit Mr. Ross was absent on one of their trading excursions, and his deputy, Leisk, was left in charge of everything.Syms Covington Journal
Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape. Plenty of poultry (A Chinese breed) and turtles, the latter of which the ship was supplied during our stay: two per day, each about A hundred fifty pounds IN weight. Also hogs, sugar cane and bananas (the latter I never saw); tobacco, planted here, produces well. I believe the coffee plant was also tried but never saw it. THERE ARE two sorts of indigenous fruit AND plenty OF watermelon, ALSO maiz. The water is very brackish and for which one is obliged to dig wells; THE WATER LEVEL rises and falls with the tide although IT IS some distance from THE beach, and THEY WERE obliged to dig until they came to a number OF stones, under which springs the water.
On Sunday the 3rd of April was caught a shark eight feet long, which put a stop to our bathing, which before was at every evening by moonlight.
It is excessively hot. When sitting still the sweat is constantly dropping off the body