Oxley, the Privateersman by Louis Becke


All day long the Indiana, Tom de Wolfs island trading brig, had tried to make Tucopia Island, an isolated spot between Vanikoro and the New Hebrides, but the strong westerly current was too much for her with such a failing breeze; and Packenham, the skipper, had agreed with Denison, his supercargo, to let Tucopia "slide" till the brig was coming south again from the Marshalls.

"Poor old Oxley won't like seeing us keep away," said Denison. "I promised him that we would be sure to give him a call this time on our way up. Poor old chap! I wish we could send him a case of grog ashore to cheer him up. But a thirty miles' pull dead to windward and against such a current is rather too much of a job even for a boat's crew of natives."

But about midnight the breeze freshened from the eastward, and by daylight the smooth, shapely cone of the green little island stood up clear and sharply defined from its surrounding narrow belt of palm-covered shore in a sunlit sea of sparkling blue, and Denison told the captain to get the boat ready.

"Ten miles or so isn't much—we can sail there and back in the boat."

Tucopia was a long way out of the Indiana's, usual cruising ground; but a year or so before a French barque had gone ashore there, and Denison had bought the wreck from her captain on behalf of Mr. Tom De Wolf. And as he had no white man on board to spare, he had handed his purchase over to the care of Oxley, the one European on the island.

"Strip her, Jack, and then set a light to her hull—there's a lot of good metal bolts in it. You shall have half of whatever we get out of the sale of her gear."

And so old Jack Oxley, who had settled on Tucopia because forty-five years before he had married a Tucopian girl, when he was a wandering boat-steerer in the colonial whaling fleet, and was now too shaky to go to sea, shook Denison's hand gratefully, and was well satisfied at the prospect of making a few hundred pounds so easily.

A quiet, blue-eyed, white-haired, stooping old man with a soft voice and pleasant smile, he had bade Denison goodbye and said with his tremulous laugh, "Don't be surprised if when you come back you find my old hull has broken up before that of the wreck. Eighty-seven is a good age, Mr. Denison. However, I'll take things easy. I'll let some of my boys" (his "boys" were sons of over forty years of age) "do all the bullocking{*} part of the work."

     * A colonial expression denoting heavy labour—i.e., to work
     like bullocks in a team.

When Denison reached the landing-place he was met by a number of the old whaler's whitey-brown descendants, who told him that Jack was dead—had died three months ago, they said. And there was a letter for the supercargo and captain, they added, which the old man had written when he knew he was dying. Denison took the letter and read it at once.

     "Dear Mr. Denison,—Tom and Sam will give you all
     particulars about the gear and metal from the wreck.... You
     asked me one day if I would write you something about the
     privateer I sailed in, and some of the fights in which I was
     engaged. You and Captain Packenham might like to read it
     some day when time hangs heavy. Sam will give you the
     yarn.... Goodbye. I fear we shall not meet again.—Yours
     very truly, John Oxley."

A few days later, as the Indiana was sailing northward from Tucopia, Denison took out old Oxley's yarn. It was written in a round schoolboy hand on the blank pages of a venerable account-book.

"Old as I am now I have never forgotten the exultant feeling that filled my bosom one dull gray morning in February, 1805, when I, John Oxley, put my weak hands to the capstan bars to help weigh anchor on board the Port-au-Prince at Gravesend, and the strange, wild thrill that tingled my boyish blood at the rough, merry chorus of the seamen while the anchor came underfoot and the hands sprang aloft to make sail. For I was country-born and country-bred, and though even in our little town of Aylesbury, where my father was a farmer, we were used to hearing tales of the sea and to the sight of those who had fought the king's battles by land and sea, I had never until that morning caught sight of the ocean.

"Two weeks before I, foolish lad that I was, had been enticed by two village comrades into a poaching venture, and although I took no actual part therein—being only stationed as a watch on the outskirts of Colstone Wood—I was seized by two of Sir John Latham's keepers and taken away to the county gaol. I will not here attempt to describe the days of misery and shame that followed, and the grief and anguish of my parents; for although Sir John and the other county magistrates before whom I was brought believed my tale when I weepingly told them that I had no intention of poaching (and, indeed, I did not actually know that my two companions were bent upon so dangerous an enterprise) and my punishment was but light, yet the disgrace was too much for me to bear. So ere the sting of the whipping I received had died away I had made up my mind to run away to London and get some honest employment, and trust to time for my father's forgiveness. My sister Judith—Heaven bless her loving heart—to whom alone I made known my purpose, sought with tender words and endearing caresses to overcome my resolution; but, finding her pleading was of no avail, she made heart to dry her tears, and, giving me half a guinea, which a month before had been given to her by Lady Latham, she folded me in her arms, and, kissing me a last goodbye, as I stood with her at midnight behind my father's barn, bade me God speed.

"'Goodbye, John,' she whispered, ''twill surely break mother's heart, I fear, when she knows you have gone.'

"So, whispering back a promise that I would find some one in London to write to her for me and tell her how I fared, I gently took poor Judith's loving arms from around my neck, and ran as hard as I could across the field into the high road; for every moment my courage was failing me, and when I reached a hedge and lay down to rest awhile, my mother's face rose before me, and I thought I heard her tender voice crying, 'My boy, my boy! Has he gone without a last kiss from me?' Twice did I rise up with tears running down my cheeks and resolve to go back and at least receive her farewell kiss and blessing, but my boyish pride came to my aid, and with a choking sob I lay down again and waited for the morning.

"It took me some days to reach London, for it is a long journey from Aylesbury, and then for nearly a week I endured much hardship and misery, for my starved and dejected appearance was such that no one would give me employment of any sort, and my half-guinea became exhausted in buying food. But weak and wretched as I was, my courage to go on in the course I had taken was still unshaken; and, although it was a bitter winter, and I all but perished with the cold, I managed to always obtain some sort of shelter at night-time.

"I do not know, even now, in what part of London those my first wanderings led me; but at last, one morning, weak, footsore, and faint from hunger I came in sight of the shipping on the Thames, and for the moment forgot my woes in the strangeness of the sight. Seating myself on a great log of mahogany that some strange-looking, black-whiskered seaman had just rolled up from a ship lying in the dock, I remained gazing in a sort of dulled amazement at the bustle and, to my mind, confusion that seemed to prevail around me.

"For nearly half an hour I remained thus watching the hurrying to and fro of those about me; for there was an Indiaman just about to leave the dock, and many hundreds of people had come down to bid farewell to those on board, among whom were about a hundred or so of soldiers. Hungry and weary as I felt, the sight of these soldiers, and the inspiriting sounds of drum and fife music played upon the quarter-deck of the Indiaman, made me stand upon the log so that I might obtain a better view. Just then I heard a voice beside me exclaim—

"'Well, my lad, I suppose you would like to be one of them, with a red coat on your back and a musket on your shoulder, eh?'

"The suddenness of the address nearly caused me to fall off the log, and the speaker put out his hand to save me. He was an old, white-haired gentleman of between sixty and seventy, and kindness and benevolence seemed to irradiate his countenance.

"'Indeed, sir, I should,' I answered as I slipped down off the log and made him a bow, as was my duty to such a gentleman, and trying to speak bravely, 'I should like to be a soldier, sir.'

"He looked at me for a moment, and then put his hand on my shoulder.

"'Who are you, my lad, and how came you-down among the docks? You are a country lad, I can see. Have you been dishonest, or done anything wrong?'

"There was so much kindliness in his tones as he asked me this that I could not tell him naught but the whole truth, and although his face was very grave at the finish, his kind manner did not change, as putting his hand in his pocket he pulled out his purse and gave me a guinea and urged me to return to my parents.

"'Nay, sir,' I said, and I began to cry as I spoke, 'I cannot return home, and with your pardon, sir, neither can I take this money,' and then my courage returning somewhat, I added; 'but I would like to get honest work, sir.'

"'Come with me, then,' said he, 'and I will see what can be done. But first you must have some food.'

"With that he bade me follow him, and in a few minutes we were opposite a coffee-house frequented by people engaged at the docks. Pushing me in front of him, he told the landlord of the place to give me all the food I could eat, and said he would return for me in the evening.

"'Certainly, Mr. Bent,' said the landlord, who, by the way he bowed and scraped, seemed to be much impressed by the condescension of the old gentleman in entering such a humble place, and then, bowing my kind friend out, he took me to a table and bade a young woman attendant give me a good meal.

"'You are in luck, my lad,' he said to me, 'for that is Mr. Robert Bent, one of the richest gentlemen in London, and a great shipowner.'

"I remained at the coffee-house all day, and in the evening a hackney coach drove up, and the old gentleman, accompanied by a younger man of very commanding presence, came into the room where I was seated anxiously awaiting him.

"'Well, my lad,' said he, 'here you are. Now, I must tell you that I know Sir John Latham well, and, indeed, have just left him, for he is now in London. He has confirmed your story to me, and says that your father is a good, honest man, who, although he loves you very much, would rather that you did not return to Aylesbury with the memory of your disgrace still fresh in his mind. So this is what I now offer you. This gentleman here is Captain Duck, the master of a ship of mine which is leaving Gravesend in a day or two for the South Seas. He is willing to take you with him and try to make a man and a seaman of you. What do you say to it?'

"What else could I say but thank him warmly for his kindness, and promise I would try hard to do my duty and win my father's forgiveness?

"'Very good,' said he; 'and now I will leave you in the care of Captain Duck. He will buy you all that is necessary for the voyage, and I shall write to your father by Sir John Latham and tell him you are well bestowed with my good friend here. So goodbye, my lad, and do your duty like a man.'

"Then he shook my hand, and turning to his companion said—

"'Goodbye, Duck. Remember that whales as well as prizes must be sought after you double Cape Horn, and that I rely upon your good judgment not to engage an enemy's ship if you think she is better armed than the Port-au-Prince. But if you meet my other ship, the Lucy, and with her can take away some rich prizes from the Spaniards—why, well and good. I should be very pleased if you send me a prize home before you go into the Pacific.'

"So away he went in the coach, and in half an hour more, with my heart bounding with excitement, I set out with Captain Duck to join the Port-au-Prince, lying at Gravesend."


"For the first week or so I was very sea-sick and unable to leave my hammock, but after that I began to recover. Captain Duck, who was a most humane and considerate gentleman, sent frequent inquiries after me, and told the officers that I was to be allowed plenty of time to gain my strength. These inquiries were always made by a lad who was under the captain's immediate protection. His name was William Mariner, and being of an adventurous disposition he had gained his parents' consent to make the voyage. Of all those that sailed with us he and I only survived to reach England and tell the story of that fateful venture, and I have heard that Mr. Mariner wrote a book giving an account of the awful calamity that befel our ship, but that few people credited the strange story of his adventures.{*}

     * This was "Mariner's Tonga Islands," published by John
     Murray, Albemarle Street, London, in 1818. Seventeen of the
     privateer's crew escaped the massacre.

"Before going any further I will tell in a few words the nature of our mission to such far-off seas. The Port-au-Prince had a double commission. She was what was termed a private ship-of-war, or privateer, and England being then at war with Spain, she had been fitted out to cruise within certain latitudes in the Atlantic for prizes. If not very successful she was to double Cape Horn and proceed to the South Seas in search of whales, unless she met the Lucy, when they were to try the coast of South America for prizes. She was very well armed, and her crew were all men who had seen much service in the king's ships; many of them were old South-Seamen, expert in the whale-fishery. There was, besides Captain Duck, a regular whaling-master, William Brown. This gentleman was of a very quarrelsome temper, and long before we were out of the Channel began to show it, greatly to our misery. Captain Duck, on the other hand, was always very good to the men. He was a brave and gallant seaman, very stern and exacting when duty demanded it, but always full of good feeling and humanity to those under his command. He had formerly commanded a privateer in the Mediterranean, and had taken many rich prizes, and his owner, who thought very highly of him, had fitted out the Port-au-Prince, specially for him to command.

"In about a month I was looked upon as being quite a smart boy, and Captain Duck would often smile encouragingly at me, and to show his appreciation of my good conduct permitted young Mr. Mariner, who was a brave and handsome lad, to bring me into his cabin occasionally, and instruct me in reading and writing.

"We had a very stormy passage to the River Plate, where we began to look out for prizes, but without success; so, after waiting off the coast many weeks, and seeing nothing but two large ships of war, which were too heavily armed for us to engage, we stood southward to double Cape Horn. This was accomplished on the 18th of June, and three days later we sailed northward into the Pacific.

"Ten days after doubling the Cape we fell in with a South Sea whaler—I think her name was the Vincent, Captain Patrick Joy—and on that day there came about a collision between Captain Duck and Mr. Brown, the whaling-master. 'Twas this quarrel, arising out of the obstinacy and pride of Mr. Brown, which caused our future dreadful disaster, as will be seen later on. The Vincent signalled that she wanted us to send a boat; and highly pleased I was when young Mr. Mariner spoke to the gunner and asked leave for me to go in the boat with himself and Captain Duck. As soon as we got on board our captain was taken below by the master of the ship, but only remained a few minutes. When he returned on deck he seemed much pleased, and, ordering us back into the boat, was just about to descend himself when a harpooner belonging to the Vincent begged permission to speak to him.

"'Why, Turner, is it you, indeed?' and Captain Duck shook the man's hand warmly, and asked him how he had fared since he had last seen him.

"'Well, sir, I thank you,' answered the harpooner; 'but will you have me on board your ship, sir? You know me well, sir, and Captain Joy says he is willing to let me go and serve under my old captain again. Indeed, sir,' he added, 'I have it set in my mind that I shall again have the honour to board some more Spanish prizes with you; and I would rather kill a murdering Spaniard or Portugal than a honest whale. I am with you, sir, heart and soul, and will be proud to serve under you again; and Captain Joy won't stand in my way.'

"This being corroborated by Mr. Joy, Captain Duck told the man to put his things into the boat, and in a few minutes we were rowing back to the Port-au-Prince. Presently I heard our captain telling young Mr. Mariner that he had heard from Captain Joy that there were two Spanish ships lying at Conception, and he had resolved to go thither and cut them out—especially as one had thirty-three thousand dollars on board. As soon as we were on board, the harpooner from the Vincent told us that the news about the two ships was correct, and that we would have no trouble in cutting them out; for he knew the place well, and there were no guns mounted there. He also told us something about himself, which I here set down as showing his adventurous nature.

"Five years before he had sailed from London in a South Seaman, the Sweet Dolly, which had made a very successful voyage, for the ship was filled with whale oil in less than a year. The Sweet Dolly, on her return to England, fell in with the Vincent, and Turner, giving her captain instructions to pay certain money to his sweetheart, who lived in Bristol, shipped on board the Vincent. She, too, was very successful, and was going home a full ship when she met the Port-au-Prince. 'And now, lads,' said he to us, 'I will make another haul, for we are sure to take these two ships at Conception, and more besides; and I shall take my lass to church in a carriage.' Little did he know how soon he was to meet his fate!

"And now as to the quarrel I have spoken of between our good captain and Mr. Brown, the whaling-master. It seems that as soon as the matter of the two Spanish ships at Conception was mentioned to Mr. Brown he became very obstinate—and then, with many intemperate expressions and oaths, flatly refused to give up the good prospects of a whaling voyage for the sake of capturing a dozen prizes. Upon this Captain Duck reminded him that he, being only whaling-master, had nought to do with the matter; that it was his duty to aid in making the voyage a success, but that if they failed to get any prizes in the course of a month or so, then he (Captain Duck) would make all possible haste to get upon the whaling ground. Instead of receiving this in a sensible manner, Mr. Brown only became the more rude, and the upshot of it was that Captain Duck lost his temper, and, seizing a cutlass, presented it at Mr. Brown's breast.

"'Go to your cabin, sir, and remain there,' he said. 'I will deal quickly with the man who dares use mutinous language to me.' And then he ordered Mr. Tobias Williams, our officer of marines, to keep Mr. Brown in close custody. He seemed very much excited and angry—and very justly so; but half an hour afterwards, when Mr. Brown sent for him to express his sorrow for his rudeness, he forgave him most readily, and drank wine with him, saying that 'twas a pity that two shipmates should quarrel when in but a little time one might lose the number of his mess by a Spanish bullet.

"A week later we arrived off Quinquina, an island in Conception Bay, and anchored at nightfall. About midnight the boats were manned and armed, and proceeded towards Conception, pulling with muffled oars. I was in the boat with Mr. James Parker, the first lieutenant, who had with him twenty-six seamen and marines. The other boats were commanded by Mr. Brown, the whaling-master, Mr. Williams, the officer of marines, and Mr. Peter Russel, the second lieutenant. The night was dark, but calm, which latter was unfortunate, as the Port-au-Prince could not follow the boats and cover the cutting-out party, as had been intended by Captain Duck. After an hour's rowing we got up unobserved to the first ship, and Mr. Parker, followed by Turner and the rest of his boat's crew, succeeded in getting on board and capturing the crew without alarming the other ships, which lay about a quarter of a mile away. After cutting her cables she was taken in tow by Mr. Russel's boat, and the other three set out for the second ship. We had just got within half a cable's length of her when Turner, again assuring Mr. Parker that there were no batteries on shore, took out one of his pistols to look at the priming. He was steering at the time, and by some woeful mishap the pistol went off.

"'Never mind, lads,' said Mr. Parker; 'I'll lay you alongside in another minute or two.' And with that we gave a cheer and bent to the oars.

"But before we had gone a hundred yards we knew that we were discovered from the shore, for two batteries immediately opened out upon us. However, we soon got aboard and captured the ship; but we were so close to the batteries that by the time we had cut her cables the ship was hulled in twenty places. Some of us were then sent back to the boats to tow her out of fire. I was in the boat with Turner, who was cheering the men to greater exertions in towing, when I heard a dreadful sound and felt something splash over me that I knew was not salt water, and saw Turner fall upon his face. Almost at the same moment another heavy shot struck the boat amidships at the water-line, and she at once began to fill, but the other boat came alongside and picked us up, including poor Turner.

"Finding that the calm still continued, and that many of our party were wounded, Mr. Parker called to us in the boat to come round on the port side, where the remaining boat was lying.

"'We'll stick to her a bit yet,' he called out, and then he sent some of our men up aloft to loose and set some sails. As soon as this was done he ordered every one back into the boats, and went to the helm himself, telling us that if a breeze sprang up and the sails wanted trimming he would call for us to come up again.

"All this time the ship was being hulled repeatedly, and we were in great concern—not for ourselves, as we were now all but out of danger—but for our gallant Mr. Parker, who seemed bent on getting away with the prize. The first thing we did after our boat was under shelter was to get a light and look at poor Turner; and the sight was a terrible one to me. The shot had carried away his lower jaw, his left arm as far as the elbow (for he was stooping when he looked at the priming of his pistol), and his right hand. The fleshy part of his thigh was also gone. The poor fellow could not do more than mutely look his dreadful anguish, and yet I could see he was perfectly conscious of all that was going on around him.

"For nearly a quarter of an hour we continued like this, feeling every shot that struck the ship. Every now and then one of us would clamber up the side to see after Mr. Parker, who would angrily order him back to his boat. At last Mr. Cresswell, our gunner, called out that the prize was sinking, and we saw that she was beginning to feel the effect of the water that was pouring into her, for she had been struck in many places between wind and water. At the same time Mr. Parker called out for four hands to come on deck as he had found the treasure, which was in the main cabin, packed in boxes. These were quickly taken out and placed in the boats, and then Mr. Parker liberated the crew of the prize, and ordered them into one of her boats to save themselves. We then shoved off and pulled after the first prize, but were met by Mr. Russel, who had had to abandon her on account of the calm and the close fire of another battery.

"'Never mind,' said Mr. Parker, with a laugh, 'if we can't bring them to Captain Duck the Spaniards won't get further use of them. I have set fire to mine.'

"'And I to mine,' said Mr. Russel.

"So this was our first engagement, and little did I relish it. We got back to the Port-au-Prince at daylight, and just as we came alongside we saw the first of the prizes blow up. Our first care was to lift the mutilated but still breathing body of poor Turner carefully on deck. Unable to utter more than a dreadful groaning sound, his eyes seemed filled with a longing to speak to Captain Duck, who bent over him with a pitying face.

"'Poor fellow,' said the captain to Mr. Russel, 'he wants to say something and cannot.' Then bending over him again, he asked him if the order he had on board in his (Captain Duck's) care was to be sent to Bristol. A feeble nod of the head was his answer, and in a few minutes he was gone. I was glad to learn afterwards that when he joined the Port-au-Prince he had an order on the owners of the Vincent for quite a large sum of money, and this he had given to Captain Duck, telling him that he wished it to be sent to a young woman named Mary Agnew, whose address in Bristol he wrote on the back and whom he had hoped to marry when he returned from this last voyage. Our captain afterwards sent the order home by the Clinton, South Seaman. (I learned afterwards from Mr. Bent that the poor woman received it safely.)

"On the following day we sailed into Conception Bay to give the batteries a taste of our metal. We went close in and then hove in stays and sent four or five shots right into the battery, but their guns were too heavy for us to do more, and with two men wounded we stood out of range again. After this we disguised the ship like an American, and went boldly into Coquimbo Roads. Here we were boarded by a party of gaily dressed gentlemen who came to trade with the supposed American. They brought with them nearly $3,000, and were deeply mortified to learn that the ship was an English privateer and they were our prisoners. One of them, however—Don Mario—took the matter very jocosely, and ate and drank and made merry, telling Mr. Mariner and Captain Duck that his entertainment was well paid for. Later on in the day more merchants came off, carrying much money, all of which they surrendered. Meanwhile four boats, well manned and armed, had gone ashore and captured some warehouses about a mile from the town. From these we obtained a great quantity of wine and some pigs of copper. Finding that the town was too well defended to be taken, we ransomed our prisoners, and Captain Duck having presented Don Mario with a cheese, in token of the good temper he had shown under his misfortune, we set sail again.

"It would take too long to tell of all that befel us during the next ten weeks or so, except that we harried every Spanish settlement along the coast, fired at every fort we saw, and took many prizes. As we were too shorthanded to man these, we took out all their stores, arms, and powder, and sank them right under the guns of a Spanish frigate at Arica, firing at her meanwhile with much merriment. While we were thus engaged a boat came alongside with six Englishmen in her. She belonged to the Minerva, a London South Seaman, bound to Port Jackson, and those in her were Captain Obed Cottle, his first and second mates, and three seamen. The remainder of the Minerva's crew, they stated, had mutinied, and after some bloodshed had permitted these six to leave in one of the boats. When they left the Minerva the mutineers ran up a black flag and announced their intention of turning the ship into a pirate. Captain Duck made them welcome, and they proved useful additions to our ship's company.

"On the 20th of September we fell in with our looked-for consort the Lucy, privateer of London, Captain Ferguson, belonging to the same owner as did the Port-au-Prince, and this gentleman and our good captain agreed to go shares in such plunder as the ships got in company. The following day, therefore, we anchored off Chinca and took that place, but were but poorly rewarded, as there were only two hundred dollars in the Governor's house. However, there was some excellent wine, of which we took twenty hogsheads on board, and we told the Governor to keep his money.

"And now comes the story of our fight with a very big ship, of which I have so often told you, Mr. Denison. On the 6th of October, the Lucy being-ahead (and both our ships off Paita), she took a king's tender laden with provisions, so the prisoners told Captain Ferguson, for the Spanish frigate Astraea then lying at anchor in Paita Roads. It had been our intent to capture the town, but the frigate's presence there put that out of the question for the time being. But we were willing to fight her outside, away from the batteries, and word to that effect was sent ashore, challenging her to come out and tackle us. She carried sixty guns, and was commanded by a Frenchman of great bravery. As soon as he received Captain Duck's challenge he got under way, and sailed out to meet the Lucy and Port-au-Prince. In half an hour we commenced a close action with the Spanish ship, and almost at the first shot I was stunned by a splinter which nearly put out my left eye. But young Mr. Mariner told me all that followed after I was carried below.

"The frigate's decks were crowded with men, for in addition to the ship's company she had on board nearly three hundred soldiers, who kept up a continuous but ineffective musketry fire. They and the Spanish sailors cursed us continually as they fired, and our crew returned the compliment, for many of our men could swear very well in Spanish. After fighting us for about an hour she bore up for the land, we sticking close to her and meaning to board; but at two o'clock our mizzen topmast was shot away, and falling athwart of our mainyard prevented us from bracing about. Then before we could get clear of this, the Spaniard came to the wind and sent a broadside that shot away our mizzen and main topmast and fore topsail yards, and played sad havoc with our braces and bowlines. In this condition, and being now almost under the guns of the forts, we had to discontinue the fight, and with the Lucy, haul off. The Astraea, too, had suffered much, and was glad to get back into Paita as quick as she could. We had several men badly wounded, among whom was our captain; and one poor boy, named Tommy Leach, was cut in halves by grape-shot. We made a second attempt to capture her two days later, but were again beaten off.

"Next morning Mr. Brown and Captain Duck had more angry words. And then two parties began to form, one in favour of whaling, and the other in favour of taking prizes. However, Captain Duck said he would go first to the Galapagos and refit before anything else was done. We anchored at James Island on the 16th, and found there three ships, the Britannia and British Tar of London, and the American ship Neutrality. From Captain Folger, of the Neutrality, which had just arrived from Paita, we learnt that the Astraea had had her fore-topmast shot away, thirty hands killed, and one hundred and twenty wounded. Monsieur de Vaudrieul, her commander, told Captain Folger that his cowardly Spanish officers wished him to strike before he fired the last broadside at our ship, and only that we could not board him he would have done so.

"We returned to the coast after this, and captured many prizes. One of these, the Spanish brig Santa Isidora was placed in charge of Mr. Parker, who, with ten hands, was ordered to take her to Port Jackson. Then the same week—the Lucy having parted company with us—we took the corbeta Santa Anna. She was a fine, new vessel and a fast sailer, and well armed. She had a prize crew put on board under the command of a gentleman adventurer of our company, Mr. Chas. Maclaren, who was ordered to follow Mr. Parker's prize to Port Jackson. Whether they ever reached this place I cannot say. I know I never heard of the corbeta again, but did hear that the Santa Isidora was captured by the natives of the Paumotu Islands and all hands massacred.

"During the time that we lay at the Galapagos, our kind and brave captain continued to get worse from his wound (he had been struck by a falling spar during an engagement with the Astraea, which had injured him internally), and at last it was evident to us all that his days were numbered. And then, too, his ardent and courageous spirit fretted greatly because of some news we had heard from the O'Caen, an armed American whaler, which on the 7th of August anchored near us. This was that a Spanish sloop-of-war was at anchor at a little port on the mainland, only a few days' sail from our anchorage. She was on her way to Callao from the northern ports of North America and Mexico, and carried tribute from the different Governors on those coasts. Much of this tribute was in furs, sealskins, and other valuable commodities, and she also had on board 170,000 dollars in money. Her crew were all very sick, and she was leaking badly, having been ashore at San Diego. The captain of this vessel had sent for assistance to Acapulco by a small trading vessel, and the master of the O'Caen said we could take her easily. She would have proved a rich prize to us, and our captain fretted greatly at his illness, for he was quite unable to do more than speak in a whisper.

"Four days afterwards I was sent to watch by his bedside by the gunner, and scarcely had I seated myself by him when he put his hand on mine, and I saw he was trying to speak. I was about to leave him to call assistance, but he held my hand with his dying strength.

"'John,' he said, in a little, thin voice, 'quick, listen to me.... Tell Mr. Brown... make for the Spanish sloop. But I fear he is a shuffler.... but... a rich prize..., God bless you, my lad.'

"And with this the grip of his hand relaxed, and his eyes closed in death. For some minutes I permitted my tears to flow uninterruptedly, then went on deck and reported our dear captain's end to the gunner, as well as his last words. Mr. Brown was then on shore, but soon came off; and that evening our worthy and lamented commander was borne to his lonely grave on the island, amid tears of unfeigned grief by every one present.

"At daylight next morning Mr. Brown, upon whom the command now devolved, ordered us with very unwarrantable and harsh language to get the ship ready for sea.

"'Sir,' said the gunner, 'to-day is Sunday, and the men are not yet over the loss of the captain.'

"But this only brought forth a very violent explosion from Mr. Brown, who called him a mutineer, and added that he intended to sail that day for the whaling ground; that the Spanish sloop might rot at her moorings for all he cared; and finally that he was master now, and would brook no interference.

"So amid the gloomy looks and muttered discontent of the men the anchor was weighed, and the Port-au-Prince stood out of the harbour to meet with her final and terrible disaster."


"It was on Saturday, the 20th of November, 1806, that we anchored at one of the Haapai Islands, in the Tonga Group, or as people now call them, the Friendly Islands. The town was named Lifuka, and it was a very beautiful place to look at, for the houses of the natives were embowered in palm groves of the loveliest verdure, and a very white beach ran from one end of the island to the other.

"Our voyage from the Galapagos had in no wise been a fortunate one; for we had taken but two whales, and the crew were in a highly mutinous state. Our new captain had grossly insulted the officer of marines from the first, and said that he and his men were a set of lazy, skulking dogs. Now ours had always been a very happy ship's company when Captain Duck was alive, and the marines we had on board had become as good seamen as any other of our people, so that this speech rankled deeply in their minds and bore bitter fruit, as will presently be shown.

"No sooner had we dropped anchor than a great number of natives came on board. They were an extraordinarily fine built race, and, indeed, although we had some very big and powerful men in the ship's company, no one of them was anything like in stature and haughty carriage to these naked, brown-skinned savages. Mr. Brown invited some of the chiefs into the cabin, and, with young Mr. Mariner, entertained them. Although they knew he was the commander they paid him little deference, but seemed to be greatly taken with Mr. Mariner, embracing him with every demonstration of affection, as if he were some long lost friend.

"In a few hours their numbers had increased to such an extent that one of our crew, a native of the Sandwich Islands (who had joined the ship at the Galapagos) ventured to tell Mr. Brown that he thought they had hostile intentions. He had, he said, heard them use the word mate, which in his islands meant to kill; and this and other expressions which much resembled those used in his own country led him to think that some mischief was intended. Instead of listening to poor Hula—for so he was named—Mr. Brown ordered him on deck, and threatened to flog him, so that the poor fellow came back quite dejected.

"'Jack,' said he to me—I was a favourite of his—'Captain he fool. You get cutlass and pistol and keep close alongside Hula. I think Kanaka men want to take ship and kill all white man.'

"I was, indeed, by this time quite terrified at the number of savages on board, and made haste to obey the poor man's warning; whereupon Mr. Brown, who just then came on deck, swore violently at me for a fool, and ordered me to lay aside my arms. 'The natives,' said he, 'mean us no harm, and I will not affront them by letting any of you timid fools carry arms in their presence.'

"The following day was Sunday, and the crew came aft in a body, and asked permission for half of the ship's company to go ashore. To this request Mr. Brown refused to accede, called them lazy, mutinous dogs, and swore he would flog the first man who attempted to leave the ship. No sooner had he said this than one Jim Kelly, the ship's armourer, stepped out in front, and brandishing a Mexican dagger swore he would run it through the first man that sought to stay him. His example was followed by William Clay, Jabez Martin, David Jones, William Baker, James Hoag, and Tom Woods, the carpenter, who, drawing their cutlasses, said they would stand to him. Then twelve others followed, and with defiant exclamations went over the side into canoes, many of them taking their clothes with them.

"In the meantime there came on board a young native chief of immense stature, named Vaka-ta-Bula, who inquired for Mr. Mariner. He seemed very pleased to see the young gentleman, and petted and fondled him as the other natives had done previously. This apparent friendliness seemed to quite overcome all sense of danger in Mr. Brown's mind; for, to the fear of the rest of the officers and crew, he ordered all our axes, boarding-pikes, cutlasses, and firearms to be taken below, and then signified his intention of accompanying Vaka-ta-Bula on shore to the native village. However, at the earnest entreaty of Mr. Dixon, the second in command, he consented to put off his visit till the following morning.

"At nine o'clock in the morning I was sent aloft by the sailmaker to help unbend the foretopsail, which was to be repaired, and looking down saw the decks were rapidly filling with natives. Mr. Brown had already gone ashore with the chief Vaka-ta-Bula, Mr. Mariner was in the cabin writing, and the rest of the officers were engaged in various work on deck. Just then I saw Mr. Dixon jump up on one of the carron-ades, and make signs to the natives that no more were to come on board. Suddenly, a tall native, who stood behind him, dashed out his brains with a club; and then in an instant a dreadful cry resounded through the ship, and all those of her crew on deck were attacked and savagely slaughtered. Horrified at the terrible butchery I saw going on below, I thought at first to leap overboard and attempt to swim to the shore, but before I could collect my thoughts I was seized by several natives and dragged to the deck.

"Just then—so I was afterwards told—young Mr. Mariner came on deck, and, seeing that every soul of the ship's company on deck lay wallowing in their blood, ran down-the scuttle into the gunroom, where, with the cooper, he rapidly devised some means or escape from the general slaughter. But the hideous yells and dreadful clamour of the savages as they rushed below to seek out and murder those of the crew still alive so appalled them that they fled to the magazine, and resolved to blow up the ship rather than meet with such a fate.

"Fired with this resolution, Mr. Mariner ran back to the gunroom for a flint and steel, but before he could secure those articles he was seized by a number of savages; and at that moment I was also dragged down into the cabin, where the first sight that met our eyes was Vaka-ta-Bula, holding Captain Duck's bloodstained sword in his hand. He was surrounded by many other chiefs and, greatly to our relief, he went up to Mr. Mariner and embraced him. Then, in broken English, he said that Mr. Brown and many of those who had gone on shore were already killed; that now that he had possession of the ship he was satisfied, and was inclined to spare those on board who yet remained alive. Then he asked us how many were left.

"'Three,' said the young gentleman, pointing to himself, the cooper, and myself.

"'Good,' said Vaka-ta-Bula, handing the bloodied sword to a native; 'three no too many.' Then he told us we must follow him ashore, and motioned us to go on deck.

"A very shocking sight there met our view. Upon the quarter-deck lay twenty-five bodies, all perfectly naked, and placed closely together side by side. Only one or two could we recognise, for the poor fellows' heads had been battered out of all human semblance by blows from the heavy native clubs, and from their still warm bodies ran a dreadful stream of red that flooded the quarter-deck and poured along the covering-board to the deck below. But even worse than this was the appearance of a short, squat old native whose head was covered with what had a few minutes before been snow-white hair, but was now dyed deep with the life-blood of our unfortunate companions.

"Over his left shoulder was thrown poor Mr. Dixon's jacket, and his frightful appearance was increased by his being—save for this one garment—absolutely naked, and holding across his huge and ensanguined thighs a heavy ironwood club, bespattered with blood and brains. So terrifying an object was he that we could scarce believe him human till he opened his horrid mouth, and with a dreadful laugh pointed to the mutilated bodies of our shipmates. I saw no more then, for I swooned.

"When I came to I found myself in a house in the village, but my companions were not visible; and, indeed, I never saw them again, for I was taken away the next day to another island, where, although I was kindly treated, I remained a prisoner for two long weary months, knowing nothing of what befell those of my shipmates who had been spared from the general massacre.

"About ten weeks afterwards, when the shock of that dreadful slaughter which I had witnessed had somewhat worn off, I began to take an interest in my surroundings. My first object was to try and learn something about young Mr. Mariner; but the natives seemed to evade my inquiries, and at first would tell me nothing. But after a time the chief with whom I lived, whose name was Fatafehe, told me that Finau, the native king who had planned and carried out the cutting off of the Port-au-Prince had taken a great liking to the young gentleman, who was now high in favour with him and the matabuli or leading men. And later on I was told that thirteen of my surviving comrades had taken service with Finau, and were then engaged with him in preparing for an expedition intended to conquer the large neighbouring island of Tongatabu. Seven of the privateer's carronades and two eighteen-pounder guns which formed part of the armament were worked by the thirteen Englishmen; and about seven months afterwards I heard that at the storming of Nukualofa, the great fortress on Tonga-tabu, Finau achieved a great victory, and made much of his white artillerymen, giving them houses and land and wives, and making them of equal rank with his matubuliu. The tale of the terrible slaughter at the taking of this fort was something dreadful even to hear, and yet I have heard that young Mariner said in his book that Finau was by no means a bloodthirsty man. I can only speak of the man as I heard of him—but Mr. Mariner, who lived with him for some three or four years, no doubt knew this savage chieftain well, and was competent to speak as he did of him.

"For ten months I lived with the chief Fatafehe in the Haapai Group, and then from there I was removed to the larger island of Vavau. Here I spent a year before I could make my escape, which by a kind Providence I was at last enabled to effect by swimming off on board the ship Chalice, of Nantucket, as she lay at anchor in Niafu Harbour.

"Her captain treated me very kindly, and put me on the ship's books, and then, Mr. Denison, began my career as a whaleman.

"It was quite another year ere I succeeded in reaching England, where I made haste to tell my story to Mr. Robert Bent; but he had already heard of the disaster that had overtaken his ship. He behaved very generously to me, and gave me twenty guineas to carry me home to my native place, and told me—as I still desired to follow a seaman's life—to come to him when I wanted a ship.

"My parents and my dear sister Judith had for about six months mourned me as dead, and ours was truly a happy and wonderful reunion, and the first night I spent at home we all knelt down together and thanked God for my deliverance.

"Mr. Mariner, I am glad to say, escaped from those dreadful islands three years later, and reached England in safety. And so I come to the end of this tale of a very strange and calamitous voyage, brought about mainly through the obstinacy of the whaling-master of the Port-au-Prince."

"And now, Mr. Denison and Captain Packenham, as I think we shall never meet again, I want you to be good to my boys, Tom and Sam, and warn them both against the drink. It is kind, generous gentlemen like you who, meaning no harm, send so many half-caste lads to hell."