By Louis Becke
T. Fisher Unwin, 1901
Early one morning, just as the trade wind began to lift the white mountain
mist which enveloped the dark valleys and mountain slopes of the island,
Denison, the supercargo of the trading schooner Palestine, put off
from her side and was pulled ashore to the house of the one white trader.
The man's name was Handle, and as he heard the supercargo's footstep he
came to the door and bade him good morning.
"How are you, Randle?" said the young man, shaking hands with the
quiet-voiced, white-haired old trader, and following him inside. "I'm
going for a day's shooting while I have the chance. Can you come?"
Randle shook his head. "Would like to, but can't spare the time to-day;
but Harry and the girls will be delighted to go with you. Wait a minute,
and have a cup of coffee first. They'll be here presently."
Denison put down his gun and took a seat in the cool, comfortable-looking
sitting-room, and in a few minutes Hester and Kate Randle and their
brother came in. The two girls were both over twenty years of age. Hester,
the elder, was remarkably handsome, and much resembled her father in voice
and manner. Kate was of much smaller build, full of vivacity, and her big,
merry brown eyes matched the dimples on her soft, sun-tanned cheeks.
Harry, who was Randle's youngest child, was a heavily-built, somewhat
sullen-faced youth of eighteen, and the native blood in his veins showed
much more strongly than it did with his sisters. They were all pleased to
see the supercargo, and at once set about making preparations, Harry
getting their guns ready and the two girls packing a basket with cold
"You'll get any amount of pigeons about two miles from here," said the old
trader, "and very likely a pig or two. The girls know the way, and if two
of you take the right branch of the river and two the left you'll have
some fine sport."
"Father," said the elder girl, in her pretty, halting English, as she
picked up her gun, "don' you think Mr. Denison would like to see ol' Mary?
We hav' been tell him so much about her. Don' you think we might stop
there and let Mr. Denison have some talk with her?"
"Ay, ay, my girl. Yes; go and see the poor old thing. I'm sure she'll be
delighted. You'll like her, Mr. Denison. She's as fine an old woman as
ever breathed. But don't take that basket of food with you, Kate. She'd
feel awfully insulted if you did not eat in her house."
The girls obeyed, much to their brother's satisfaction, inasmuch as the
basket was rather heavy, and also awkward to carry through the mountain
forest. In a few minutes the four started, and Hester, as she stepped out
beside Denison, said that she was glad he was visiting old Mary. "You
see," she said, "she hav' not good eyesight now, and so she cannot now
come an' see us as she do plenty times before."
"I'm glad I shall see her," said the young man; "she must be a good old
"Oh, yes," broke in Kate, "she is good and brave, an' we all love
her. Every one mus' love her. She hav' known us since we were born,
and when our mother died in Samoa ten years ago old Mary was jus' like a
second mother to us. An' my father tried so hard to get her to come and
live with us; but no, she would not, not even fo' us. So she went back to
her house in the mountain, because she says she wants to die there. Ah,
you will like her... and she will tell you how she saved the ship when her
husband was killed, and about many, many things."
Two hours later Denison and his friends emerged out upon cultivated ground
at the foot of the mountain, on which stood three or four native houses,
all neatly enclosed by low stone walls formed of coral slabs. In front of
the village a crystal stream poured swiftly and noisily over its rocky bed
on its way seaward, and on each thickly wooded bank the stately boles of
some scores of graceful coco-palms rose high above the surrounding
foliage. Except for the hum of the brawling stream and the cries of birds,
the silence was unbroken, and only two or three small children, who were
playing under the shade of a breadfruit-tree, were visible. But these, as
they heard the sound of the visitors' voices, came towards them shouting
out to their elders within the huts that "four white people with guns" had
come. In a moment some grown people of both sexes came out and shook hands
with the party.
"This is Mary's house," said Hester to Denison, pointing out the largest;
"let us go there at once. Ah, see, there she is at the door waiting for
"Come, come inside," cried the old woman in a firm yet pleasant voice, and
Denison, looking to the right, saw that "Mary," in spite of her years and
blindness, was still robust and active-looking. She was dressed in a blue
print gown and blouse, and her grey hair was neatly dressed in the island
fashion. In her smooth, brown right hand she grasped the handle of a
polished walking-stick, her left arm she held across her bosom—the
hand was missing from the wrist.
"How do you do, sir?" she said in clear English, as, giving her stick to
Kate Randle, she held out her hand to the supercargo. "I am so glad that
you have come to see me. You are Mr. Denison, I know. Is Captain Packenham
quite well? Come, Kitty, see to your friend. There, that cane lounge is
the most comfortable. Harry, please shoot a couple of chickens at once,
and then tell my people to get some taro, and make an oven."
"Oh, that is just like you, Mary," said Kate, laughing, "before we have
spoken three words to you you begin cooking things for us."
The old woman turned her sunburnt face towards the girl and shook her
stick warningly, and said in the native tongue—
"Leave me to rule in mine own house, saucy," and then Denison had an
effort to restrain his gravity as Mary, unaware that he had a very fair
knowledge of the dialect in which she spoke, asked the two girls if either
of them had thought of him as a husband. Kate put her hand over Mary's
mouth and whispered to her to cease. She drew the girl to her and hugged
Whilst the meal was being prepared Denison was studying the house and its
contents. Exteriorly the place bore no difference to the usual native
house, but within it was plainly but yet comfortably furnished in European
fashion, and the tables, chairs, and sideboard had evidently been a
portion of a ship's cabin fittings. From the sitting-room—the floor
of which was covered by white China matting—he could see a bedroom
opposite, a bed with snowy white mosquito curtains, and two mahogany
chairs draped with old-fashioned antimacassars. The sight of these simple
furnishings first made him smile, then sigh—he had not seen such
things since he had left his own home nearly six years before. Hung upon
the walls of the sitting-room were half a dozen old and faded engravings,
and on a side-table were a sextant and chronometer case, each containing
instruments so clumsy and obsolete that a modern seaman would have looked
upon them as veritable curiosities.
From the surroundings within the room Denison's eyes wandered to the
placid beauty of the scene without, where the plumes of the coco-palms
overhanging the swift waters of the tiny stream scarce stirred to the
light air that blew softly up the valley from the sea, and when they did
move narrow shafts of light from the now high-mounted sun would glint and
shine through upon the pale green foliage of the scrub beneath. Then once
again his attention was directed to their hostess, who was now talking
quietly to the two Randle girls, her calm, peaceful features seeming to
him to derive an added but yet consistent dignity from the harmonies of
Nature around her.
What was the story of her infancy? he wondered. That she did not know it
herself he had been told by old Randle, who yet knew more of her history
and the tragedy of her later life than any one else. Both young Denison,
the supercargo of five-and-twenty, and Randle, the grizzled wanderer and
veteran of sixty-five, had known many tragedies during their career in the
Pacific; but the story of this half-blind, crippled old woman, when he
learnt it in full, appealed strongly to the younger man, and was never
forgotten in his after life.
They had had a merry midday meal, during which Mary Eury—for that
was her name—promised Denison that she would tell him all about
herself after he and the Randles came back from shooting, "but," she
added, with her soft, tremulous laugh, "only on one condition, Mr. Denison—only
on one condition. You must bring Captain Packenham to see me before the Palestine
sails. I am an old woman-now, and would like to see him. I knew him many
years ago when he was a lad of nineteen. Ah, it is so long ago! That was
in Samoa. Has he never spoken of me?"
"Often, Mrs. Eury——"
"Don't call me Mrs. Eury, Mr. Denison. Call me 'Mary,' as do these dear
friends of mine. 'Mary'—'old' Mary if you like. Every one who knew
me and my dear husband in those far, far back days used to call me 'Mary'
and my husband 'Bob Eury' instead of 'Mrs. Eury' and 'Captain Eury.' And
now, so many, many years have gone... and now I am 'Old Mary'... and I
think I like it better than Mrs. Eury. And so Captain Packenham has not
Denison hastened to explain. "Indeed he has not. He remembers you very
well, and would have come with me, but he is putting the schooner on the
beach to-day to clean her. And I am sure he will be delighted to come and
see you to-morrow."
"Of course he must. Surely every English and American in the South Seas
should come and see me; for my husband was ever a good friend to every
sailor that ever sailed in the island trade—from Fiji to the Bonins.
There now, I won't chatter any more, or else you will be too frightened to
come back to such a garrulous old creature. Ah, if God had but spared to
me my eyesight I should come with you into the mountains. I love the
solitude, and the sweet call of the pigeons, and the sound of the
waterfall at the side of Taomaunga. And I know every inch of the country,
and blind as I am, I could yet find my way along the mountain-side. Kate,
and you, Harry, do not keep Mr. Denison out too late."
By sunset the shooting party had returned, and after a bathe in the cool
waters of the mountain stream Denison returned to the house. Kate Handle
and her sister, assisted by some native women, were plucking pigeons for
the evening meal. Harry was lying down on the broad of his back on the
grassy sward with closed eyes, smoking, and their hostess was sitting on a
wide cane bench outside the house. She heard the young man's footstep, and
beckoned him to seat himself beside her. And then she told him her story.
"I don't know where I was born—for, as I daresay Randle has told
you, I was only five years of age when I was picked up at sea in a boat,
the only other occupant of which was a Swedish seaman. The vessel which
rescued us was one of the transports used for conveying convicts to New
South Wales, and was named the Britannia, but when she sighted the
boat she was on a voyage to Tahiti in the Society Islands. I imagine this
was sometime about 1805, so I must now be about seventy years of age.
"The Swedish sailor told the captain of the Britannia that he and I
were the only survivors of a party of six—among whom were my father
and mother—belonging to a small London barque named the Winifred,
She was employed in the trade between China and Valparaiso, and my father
was owner as well as captain. On the voyage from Canton, and when within
fifty miles of Tahiti, and in sight of land, she took fire, and the
Chinese crew, when they saw that there was no hope of the ship being
saved, seized the longboat, which had been prepared, and was well
provisioned, and made off, although the cowardly creatures knew that the
second boat was barely seaworthy. My father—whose name the Swede did
not know—implored them to return, and at least take my mother and
myself and an officer to navigate their boat to land. But they refused to
listen to his pleadings, and rowed off. The second boat was hurriedly
provisioned by my father and his officers, and they, with my mother and
myself and the Swede—all the Europeans on board—left the
burning ship at sundown. A course was steered for the eastern shore of
Tahiti, which, although the wind was right ahead, we hoped to reach on the
evening of the following day. But within a few hours after leaving the
barque the trade wind died away, and fierce, heavy squalls burst from the
westward upon the boat, which was only kept afloat by constant bailing.
About dawn the sea had become so dangerous, and the wind had so increased
in violence, that an attempt was made to put out a sea-anchor. Whilst this
was being done a heavy sea struck the boat and capsized her. The night was
pitchy dark, and when the Swede—who was a good swimmer—came to
the surface he could neither see nor hear any of the others, though he
shouted loudly. But at the same moment, as his foot touched the line to
which the sea anchor was bent, he heard the mate's voice calling for
"'I have the child,' he cried. 'Be quick, for I'm done.'
"In another minute the brave fellow had taken me from him; then the poor
mate sank, never to rise again. Whether I was alive or dead my rescuer
could not tell, but being a man of great physical strength, he not only
kept me above water with one hand, but succeeded in reaching first the
sea-anchor-four oars lashed together—and then the boat, which had
been righted by another sea.
"How this brave man kept me alive in such a terrible situation I do not
know. By sunrise the wind had died away, the sea had gone down, and he was
able to free the boat of water. In the stern-sheet locker he found one
single tin of preserved potatoes, which had been jammed into a corner when
the boat capsized—all the rest of the provisions, with the
water-breakers as well, were lost. On this tin of potatoes we lived—so
he told the master of the Britannia—for five days, constantly
in sight of the land around which we were drifting, sometimes coming to
within a distance of thirty miles of it. All this time, by God's
providence, we had frequent heavy rain squalls, and the potato tin, which
was about eighteen inches square, and was perfectly water-tight, proved
our salvation, for the potatoes were so very salt that we would have
perished of thirst had we been unable to save water. Ohlsen cut down one
of his high sea-boots, and into this he would put two handfuls of the
dried potatoes, and then fill it up with water. It made a good sustaining
food after it had been softened by the water and kneaded into a pulp.
"An hour before dawn, on the sixth day, Ohlsen, who was lying on the
bottom boards of the boat, was awakened by hearing me crying for my
mother. The poor fellow, who had stripped off his woollen shirt to protect
my little body from the cold, at once sat up and tried to comfort me. The
sea was as smooth as glass, and only a light air was blowing. Drawing me
to his bare chest—for I was chilled with the keen morning air—he
was about to lie down again, when he heard the creaking of blocks and then
a voice say, 'Ay, ay, sir!' and there, quite near us, was a large ship! In
a moment he sprang to his feet, and hailed with all his strength; he was
at once answered, the ship was brought to the wind, a boat lowered, and in
less than a quarter of an hour we were on board the Britannia.
"On that dear old ship I remained for five years or more, for the captain
had his wife on board, and although she had two young children of her own,
she cared for and loved me as if I had been her own daughter. Most of this
time was spent among the Pacific Islands, and then there came to me
another tragedy, of one of which I have a most vivid remembrance, for I
was quite eleven years old at the time.
"The Britannia, like many South Seamen of those times, was a letter
of marque, and carried nine guns, for although we were, I think, at peace
with Spain, we were at war with France, and there were plenty of French
privateers cruising on the South American coast, with whom our ships were
frequently engaged. But none had ever been seen so far eastward as the
Galapagos Islands, and so we one day sailed without fear into a small bay
on the north-west side of Charles Island to wood and water.
"On the following morning the captain, whose name was Rossiter, ordered my
old friend Ohlsen, who was now gunner on the Britannia, to take
four hands and endeavour to capture some of the huge land tortoises which
abound on the islands of the group. I was allowed to go with them. Little
did I think I should never again see his kindly face when I took my seat
in the boat and was rowed ashore. Besides Ohlsen and myself, there were
two English seamen, a negro named King and a Tahitian native. The youngest
of the English sailors was named Robert Eury; he was about twenty-two
years of age, and a great favourite of the captain who knew his family in
"We hauled the boat up on a small sandy beach, and then started off into
the country, and by noon we had caught three large tortoises which we
found feeding on cactus plants. Then, as we were resting and eating, we
suddenly heard the report of a heavy gun, and then another and another. We
clambered up the side of a rugged hill, from the summit of which we could
see the harbour, a mile distant, and there was the Britannia lying
at anchor, and being attacked by two vessels! As we watched the fight we
saw one of the strange ships, which were both under sail, fire a broadside
at our vessel, and the second, putting about, did the same. These two
broadsides, we afterwards heard, were terribly disastrous, for the captain
and three men were killed, and nine wounded. The crew, however, under the
mate, still continued to work her guns with the utmost bravery and refused
to surrender. Then a lucky shot from one of her 9-pounders disabled the
rudder of the largest Frenchmen, which, fearing to anchor so near to such
a determined enemy, at once lowered her boats and began to tow out,
followed by her consort. At the entrance to the bay, however, the smaller
of the two again brought-to and began firing at our poor ship with a
24-pounder, or other long-range gun, and every shot struck. It was then
that the mate and his crew, enraged at the death of the captain, and
finding that the ship was likely to be pounded to pieces, determined to
get under weigh and come to close quarters with the enemy, for the Britannia
was a wonderfully fast ship, and carried a crew of fifty-seven men. But
first of all he sent ashore Mrs. Rossiter, her two children, a coloured
steward, and all the money and other valuables in case he should be
worsted. His name was Skinner, and he was a man of the most undaunted
resolution, and had at one time commanded a London privateer called the Lucy,
which had made so many captures that Skinner was quite a famous man. But
his intemperate habits caused him to lose his command, and he had had to
ship on the Britannia as chief mate. He was, however, a great
favourite with the men, who now urged him to lead them on and avenge the
loss of the captain; so the moment the boat returned from landing Mrs.
Rossiter he slipped his cable, and stood out to meet the enemy.
"We, from the hill, watched all this with the greatest interest and
excitement, and then Ohlsen turned to the others and said, 'Let us get
back to the boat at once. The captain has got under weigh to chase those
fellows, and we should be with him.'
"So we descended to the beach, where we met the poor lady and her
children, and heard that her husband was dead. She begged Ohlsen not to
leave her, but he said his duty lay with his shipmates; then she besought
him to at least leave Robert Eury with her, as she was terrified at the
idea of having to spend the night on such a wild island with no one but
the coloured steward to protect her and her children. At this time—although
we could not see them—we knew the ships were heavily engaged, for
the roar of the cannon was continuous. So, much to his anger, young Eury
was bidden to remain with the captain's wife, her son aged twelve, her
daughter Ann, who was three years younger, the coloured steward, and
myself. Then, bidding us goodbye, Ohlsen and his three men went off in the
boat, and were soon out of sight.
"Young as he was, Robert Eury had good sense and judgment. He was angry at
Mr. Skinner venturing out to attack such well-armed vessels with our poor
9-pounders, and although he had been most anxious to join his shipmates,
he was, he afterwards told me, pretty sure that the Britannia would
have to strike or be sunk. The first thing he did, however, was to make
all of our party comfortable. At the head of the bay there was an empty
house, which had been built by the crews of the whaleships frequenting the
Galapagos as a sort of rest-house for the men sent to catch tortoises. To
this place he took us, and set the steward to work to get us something to
eat, for Mr. Skinner had sent provisions and wine ashore. Then he took the
ship's money, which amounted to about thirteen hundred pounds, and buried
it a little distance away from the house. I helped him, and when the bags
were safely covered up he turned to me with a smile lighting up his brown
"'There, Molly. That's done, and if Mr. Skinner has to strike, and the
Frenchmen come here, they'll get nothing but ourselves.'
"By this time it was well on towards the afternoon, and we only heard a
cannon shot now and then. Then the sound of the firing ceased altogether.
We got back to the house and waited—we knew not for what. Poor Mrs.
Rossiter, who was a very big, stout woman, had sobbed herself into a state
of exhaustion, but she tried to brace herself up when she saw us, and when
Robert Eury told her that he had buried the money, she thanked him.
"'Try and save it for my children, Robert I fear I shall not be long with
them. And if I am taken away suddenly I want you to bear witness that it
was my husband's wish, and is mine now, that Mary here is to share alike
with my son Fred and my daughter Ann. Would to God I had means here to
"Robert tried to comfort her with the assurance that all would be well,
when as he spoke we saw a sight at which I, girl of twelve as I was, was
struck with terror—the two French ships appeared round the headland
with the Britannia following with French colours at her peak. The
three came in together very slowly, and then dropped anchor within a
cable's length of the beach. The captain's wife looked at them wildly for
a moment, and then fell forward on her face. She died that night.
"The two French captains treated us very kindly, and they told Robert, who
spoke French well, that Mr. Skinner had made a most determined attempt to
board the larger of the two vessels, but was killed by a musket-shot, and
that only after thirty of the Britannia's crew had been killed and
wounded, and the ship herself was but little more than a wreck, did
Ohlsen, who was himself terribly wounded by a splinter in the side, haul
down his flag. Then the elder of the two Frenchmen asked Robert which was
the child named 'Marie.'
"'This is the child, sir,' said Eury, pointing to me.
"'Then let her come with me and see the gunner of our prize,' said he; 'he
is dying, and has asked to see her.'
"I was taken on board the Britannia, over her bloodstained decks, and into
the main cabin, where poor Ohlsen was lying breathing his last. His face
lit up when he saw me, and he drew me to his bosom just as he had done
years before in the open boat off Tahiti. I stayed with him till the last,
then one of the French privateer officers led me away.
"In the morning Mrs. Rossiter was buried; the French captains allowing
some of the surviving members of the crew of the Britannia to carry
her body to her grave. There was a young Spanish woman—the wife of
the older captain—on board the larger of the privateers, and she
took care of us three children. I cannot remember her name, but I do
remember that she was a very beautiful woman and very kind to us, and told
us through an interpreter that we should be well cared for, and some day
go home to England; and when she learned my own particular story she took
me in her arms, kissed, and made much of me.
"About noon the crew of the Britannia were ranged on deck, and the
elder of the two French captains called on Robert Eury to step out.
"'This man here,' he said in English, indicating the coloured steward,
tells me that you have buried some money belonging to the prize. Where is
"'I cannot tell you,' replied Robert; 'the captain's wife told me it
belonged to her children and to the little girl Mary.'
"The Frenchman laughed. 'It belongs to us now; it is prize money, my good
"Eury looked at him steadily, but made no answer.
"' Come,' said the captain impatiently, 'where is it?'
"'I cannot tell you.'
"The younger of the captains laughed savagely, and stepped up to him,
pistol in hand.
"'I give you ten seconds to tell.'
"'Five will do, monsieur,' replied Robert, in French, 'and then you will
be losing five seconds of your time. I shall not tell you. But I should
like to say goodbye to my dead captain's children.'
"'The young Frenchmen's face purpled with fury. 'Very well then, you
fool!' and he raised his pistol to murder the young man, when the older
captain seized his arm.
"'Shame, Pellatier, shame! Would you kill such a brave man in cold blood?
Let us be satisfied with getting such a good ship. Surely you would not
shoot him for the sake of a few hundred dollars?'
"'There may be thousands. How can we tell?' replied Pellatier.
"Robert laughed, and then raised his hand in salute to the elder captain.
"'Captain Pellatier is right, sir. Madame Melville told me that there were
thirteen hundred pounds in the bags which I have buried. And on certain
conditions I will tell you where to find it.'
"'The money is fair prize money. That I admit. But you will never see it,
unless you agree to my conditions, and pledge me your word of honour to
observe them honourably. I am not afraid to die, gentlemen.'
"'You are a bold fellow, and ought to have been a Frenchman—but be
quick, name the conditions.'
"'Half of the money to be given to these orphan children, whose pitiable
condition should appeal to you. And promise me on your honour as men that
you will land them at Valparaiso, or some other civilised place, from
where they may reach England. If you will not make this promise, you can
shoot me now.'
"'And what of yourself?' said Pellatier, who was a little dark man with
very ugly monkey-like features; 'you would be the guardian of this money,
no doubt, my clever fellow.'
"The insulting manner in which he spoke exasperated Eury beyond endurance,
and he made as if he would strike the man; but he stopped suddenly, and
looking contemptuously at the Frenchman uttered the one word—
"It nearly cost him his life, for Pellatier, stung to fury by the loud
laughter of his fellow-captain, again levelled his pistol at the young
man, and again the older captain seized his arm.
"'By Heaven, you shall not harm him!' he cried, amid a murmur of applause
from the crew. Then addressing Eury he said. I give you my promise. The
children and yourself are under my protection, and when we reach
Valparaiso I will put you all on shore.' Then he ordered one of his
officers to escort Robert ashore and get the money.
"Eury thanked him quietly, and then he turned to Pellatier, and said he
was sorry he used an offensive word to him; but Pellatier received his
apology with a scowl, and turned away. In half an hour Eury returned with
the officer, carrying the money. It was counted and divided, and it was
easy to see that Dupuis, the elder captain, was very pleased when the
young man asked him to take charge of the half of the money belonging to
the Rossiter children and myself.
"The three ships sailed in company for South America a week later. I
remained on board the Britannia together with Robert Eury and six
others of her original crew, the Rossiter children being taken by the
Spanish lady on board the larger of the privateers, the second lieutenant
of which, with about twenty men, were drafted to the prize. After keeping
in close company for four or five days we lost sight of the privateers,
much to the annoyance of our captain, who was a very indifferent
navigator, as he soon showed by altering his course to E. by S. so as to
pick up the coast of South America as soon as possible. This was a most
fortunate thing for us, for at daylight on the following morning two sail
were seen, not five miles distant, and to our intense delight proved to be
English letters of marque—the barque Centurion of Bristol and
the barque Gratitude of London. They at once closed in upon and
engaged us, and although the Frenchmen made a good fight, they had to
strike after a quarter of an hour's engagement, for the Centurion
was a very heavily armed ship.
"Her captain was a very old man named Richard Glass. He came on board the
Britannia and spoke very good-humouredly to the French lieutenant,
for on neither side had any one been killed, and he saw that the Britannia
was a fine ship. He told the Frenchmen to take the longboat, and as much
provisions and water as they liked, and make for the coast, which was less
than seventy miles distant. This was soon done, and our former captors
parted from us very good friends, every one of them coming up and shaking
hands with Robert Eury and calling him bon camarade.
"Captain Glass put his own chief officer in charge of the Britannia
(with Robert as his mate) and ordered him to proceed to Port Jackson and
await the arrival there of the Centurion and her consort. We
arrived at our destination safely, and as soon as my story was known many
kind people wanted to adopt me; but the agent of the Britannia took
me to his own home, where I lived for many happy years as a member of his
family. Robert Eury was then appointed mate of a vessel in the China
trade, but I saw him every year. Then when I was seventeen years of age he
asked me to marry him, and I did so gladly, for he was always present in
my thoughts when he was away, and I knew he loved me."
"My husband invested his savings in a small schooner, which he named the
Taunton and within a month of our marriage we were at sea, bound on
a trading voyage to Tahiti and the Paumotus. This first venture proved
very successful, so did the two following voyages; and then, as he
determined to found a business of his own in the South Seas, he bought a
large piece of land on this island from the natives, with whom he was on
very friendly terms. His reasons for choosing this particular island were,
firstly, because of its excellent situation—midway between Port
Jackson and the Spanish settlements on the South American coast, which
were good markets; secondly, because great numbers of the American whaling
ships would make it a place of call to refresh if there was a reputable
white man living on the island; and thirdly, because he intended to go
into sperm whaling himself, for it was an immensely profitable business,
and he could, if he wished, sell the oil to the American ships instead of
taking it to Port Jackson. The natives here in those days were a very wild
set, but they really had a great friendship and respect for my husband;
and when they learnt that he intended to settle among them permanently
they were delighted beyond measure. They at once set to work and built us
a house, and the chief and my husband exchanged names in the usual manner.
"My first child was born on the island whilst my husband was away on a
voyage to Port Jackson, and, indeed, of my four children three were born
here. When Robert returned in the Taunton he brought with him a
cargo of European stores and comforts for our new home, and in a few
months we were fairly settled down. From the first American whaleships
that visited us he bought two fine whaleboats and all the necessary gear,
and then later on engaged one of the best whalemen in the South Seas to
superintend the business. In the first season we killed no less than six
sperm whales, and could have taken more, but were short of barrels. The
whaling station was at the end of the south point of the harbour, and when
a whale was towed in to be cut in and tried out the place presented a
scene of great activity and bustle, for we had quite two hundred natives
to help. Alas, there is scarcely a trace of it left now! The great iron
try-pots, built up in furnaces of coral lime, were overgrown by the green
jungle thirty years ago, and it would be difficult even to find them now.
"The natives, as I have said, were very wild, savage, and warlike; but as
time went on their friendship for my husband and myself and children
deepened, and so when Robert made a voyage to Port Jackson or to any of
the surrounding islands I never felt in the least alarmed. I must tell you
that we—my husband and myself—were actually the first white
people that had landed to live on the island since the time of the Bounty
mutiny, when Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers tried to settle
here. They brought the Bounty in, and anchored her just where your
own schooner is now lying—opposite Randle's house. But the natives
attacked Christian and his men so fiercely, and so repeatedly, though with
terrible loss to themselves, that at last Christian and Edward Young
abandoned the attempt to found a settlement, and the Bounty went
back to Tahiti, and finally to Afitā, as the people here call Pitcairn
"Four years passed by. My husband was making money fast, not only as a
trader among the Paumotus and the Society Islands, where he had two small
vessels constantly employed, but from his whale fishery. Then came a time
of sorrow and misfortune. A South Seaman, named the Stirling Castle,
touched here for provisions, and introduced small-pox, and every one of my
poor children contracted the disease and died; many hundreds of the
natives perished as well. My husband at this time was away in one of his
vessels at Fakarava Lagoon in the Paumotu Group, and I spent a very lonely
and unhappy seven months before he returned. Almost every morning,
accompanied by one or two of my native women servants, I would ascend that
rugged peak about two miles from here, from where we had a complete view
of the horizon all round the island, and watch for a sail. Twice my heart
gladdened, only to be disappointed again, for the ships on both occasions
were Nantucket whalers. And then, as the months went by, I began to
imagine that something dreadful had happened to my husband and his ship
among the wild people of the Paumotus, for when he sailed he did not
expect to be away more than three months.
"At last, however, when I was quite worn out and ill with anxiety, he
returned. I was asleep when he arrived, for it was late at night, and his
vessel had not entered the harbour, though he had come ashore in a boat.
He awakened me very gently, and then, before I could speak to him and tell
him of our loss, he said—
"'Don't tell me, Molly. I have heard it all just now. But, there, I'm home
again, dear; and I shall never stay away so long again, now that our
children have been taken and you and I are alone.'
"After another year had passed, and when I was well and strong again, the
whaleship Chalice of Sag Harbour, Captain Freeman, touched here,
and the master came on shore. He was an old acquaintance of my husband's,
and told us that he had come ashore purposely to warn us of a piratical
vessel which had made her appearance in these seas a few months before,
and had seized two or three English and American ships, and murdered every
living soul of their crews. She hailed from Coquimbo, and her captain was
said to be a Frenchman, whilst her crew was composed of the worst ruffians
to be found on the coast of South America—men whose presence on
shore would not be tolerated even by the authorities at any of the Spanish
settlements from Panama to Valdivia. Sailing under French colours, and
professing to be a privateer, she had actually attacked a French merchant
brig within fifty miles of Coquimbo Roads, the captain and the crew of
which were slaughtered and the vessel plundered and then burnt. Since then
she had been seen by several vessels in the Paumoto archipelago, where her
crew had been guilty of the most fearful crimes, perpetrated on the
"My husband thanked Freeman for his information; but said that if the
pirate vessel came into Tubuai Lagoon she would never get out again,
except under British colours. This was no idle boast, for not only were my
husband's two vessels—which were then both at anchor in the lagoon—well
armed, but they were manned by English or English-blooded half-caste
seamen, who would have only been too delighted to fight a Frenchman, or a
Spaniard, or a Dutchman.
"Ah, 'tis so long ago, but what brave, rough fellows they were! Some of
them, we well knew, had been transported as convicts, and were, when
opportunity offered, drunken and dissolute, but to my husband and myself
they were good and loyal men. Two of them had seen Trafalgar day in the Royal
Sovereign under Collingwood when that ship had closed with the Santa
Anna and made her strike. Their names—as given to us—were
James Watts and Thomas Godwin. After the fleet returned to England they
got into mischief, and were transported for being concerned in a smuggling
transaction at Deal, in Kent, in which a preventive officer was either
killed or seriously wounded—I forget which. Their exemplary conduct,
however, had gained them a remission of their sentences, and the Governor
of New South Wales, who was most anxious to open up the South Sea Island
trade, had recommended them to my husband as good men, Godwin having been
brought up to the boatbuilding trade at Lowestoft in England, and Watts as
"About ten days after the visit of the Chalice my husband left in
one of his vessels for Vavitao—only a day's sail from here. He
wanted me to go with him, but I was too much interested in a large box of
English seeds, and some young fruit trees which the Governor of New South
Wales had sent to us, and so I said I would stay and watch our garden, in
which I took a great pride. He laughed and said that I must not forget to
look out for 'Freeman's pirate' as well as for my garden. He never for one
moment imagined that the French vessel would turn up at Tubuai.
"He took with him Thomas Godwin and William Myson, leaving Watts, who was
master of the other vessel, with me, to attend to the whaling.
"A week after he had sailed I set out to walk to the north end of the
island, where my children were buried. I had with me an active native boy
named Tati—who was carrying some plants and seeds which I intended
planting on and about the children's graves—and two young women. We
started early in the morning, for I intended staying at the north end till
late in the afternoon, whilst the two girls went crayfishing on the reef.
"About noon I had finished my labours, and then, as it was a beautifully
bright day, I climbed a hill near by, called 'The White Man's Lookout,'
which commanded a clear view of the sea all round the island. It had been
given this name by the natives, who said that Fletcher Christian and his
fellow-mutineer, Edward Young, had often ascended the hill and gazed out
upon the ocean, for they were fearful that at any moment a King's ship
might appear in pursuit of their comrades and themselves.
"I was again feeling somewhat anxious on account of my husband. He should
have returned a week before, for there had been no bad weather, and I knew
that his business at Vavitao should have kept him there only a day at the
most. But the moment I gained the summit of the hill my heart leapt with
joy, for there were two vessels in sight, one of which I at once
recognised as my husband's. They were about a mile distant, and were
running before the wind for the harbour. The strange vessel, which was a
brigantine, was following close astern of our own schooner—evidently,
I thought, my husband is showing her the way into the lagoon.
"Just as I was preparing to descend the hill my little companion, the
native boy, Tati, drew my attention to four canoes which, in company with
a boat from Captain Watts' schooner, were approaching the vessels.
"'Ah,' I thought, 'Watts has seen the vessels from the whaling station,
and is going out to meet them.'
"But presently something occurred which filled me with terror. When the
boat and canoes were quite close to the vessels, they both luffed, and
fired broadsides into them; the boat and two canoes were evidently
destroyed, and the two remaining canoes at once turned round and headed
for the shore, the brigantine firing at them with guns which I knew to be
long twenty-fours by the sharp sound they made. In a moment I knew what
had happened—my husband's ship had been captured by the French
privateer of which Captain Freeman had told us, and the Frenchmen were now
coming to seize our other selves lying anchored in the lagoon.
"Tati looked at me inquiringly.
"'Run,' I said, 'run and tell Uasi (for so the natives called Captain
Watts) that the master and his ship have been captured by an enemy, who
will be upon him very quickly, for the boat and two of the canoes he has
sent out have been destroyed, and every one in them killed. Tell him I am
"The boy darted away in a moment, and I followed him as quickly as I
could; but Tati reached the harbour and was on board Watts' schooner quite
half an hour before me, and when I went on board I found the vessel was
prepared to defend the entrance to the harbour. Captain Watts had swung
her broadside on to the entrance, boarding nettings were already triced up
from stem to stern, and on the schooner's decks were fifty determined
natives, in addition to the usual crew of twenty men, all armed with
muskets and cutlasses. The four 6-pounders which she carried, two on each
side, were now all on the port side, loaded with grape-shot, and in fact
every preparation had been made to fight the ship to the last. Watts met
me as soon as I stepped on board, and told me that before my messenger
Tati had arrived to warn him he had heard the sound of the firing at sea,
and at once surmised that something was wrong.
"'Soon after you left the house, Mrs. Eury, some natives sighted the two
vessels to the north-east and I sent the boatswain and four men off in one
of the whale-boats, little thinking that I was sending them to their
death. Four canoes went with the boat. Just now two of the canoes came
back with half of their number dead or wounded, and the survivors told me
that as soon as they were within musket-shot both the ships opened fire on
them, sunk the boat and two of the canoes with grape-shot, and then began
a heavy musketry fire. I fear, madam, that Captain Eury and his ship——'
"'Your fears are mine, Watts,' I said, 'but whether my husband is alive or
dead, let us at least try and save this vessel.'
"'Ay, ay, madam. And if we have to give up the ship, we can beat them off
on shore. There are a hundred or more natives lying hidden at the back of
the oil shed, and if the Frenchmen capture this vessel they will cover our
retreat ashore. They are all armed with muskets.'
"We waited anxiously for the two ships to appear; but the wind had
gradually died away until it fell a dead calm. Then a native runner hailed
us from the shore, and said that both vessels had anchored off the reef,
and were manning their boats.
"'All the better for us,* said Watts grimly;'we'll smash them up quick
enough if they try boarding. If they had sailed in, the Frenchman's long
guns would have sunk us easily, and our wretched guns could not have done
him much harm.' Then he went round the decks, and saw that the crew and
their native allies were all at their proper stations.
"Presently he saw the boats—five of them—come round the point.
Two of them we recognised as belonging to my husband's vessel, though they
were, of course, manned by Frenchmen. They rowed leisurely in through the
entrance till they were within musket-shot, and then the foremost one
ceased rowing, and hoisted a white flag.
"'They want us to surrender without a fight,' said Watts, 'or are
meditating some treachery,' and taking a musket from one of the crew he
levelled it and fired in defiance. The bullet struck the water within a
foot of the boat. The white flag, however, was held up higher by the
officer in the stern. Watts seized a second musket, and this time his
bullet went plump into the crowded boat, and either killed or wounded some
one, for there was a momentary confusion. Then the white flag was lowered,
and with loud cheers the five boats made a dash towards us. Telling the
gunners to reserve their fire of grape until he gave the word, Watts and
the natives now began a heavy musketry fire on the advancing boats, and
although they suffered heavily the Frenchmen came on most gallantly. Then
when the first two boats, which were pulling abreast, were within fifty
yards' distance, Watts and a white seaman sprang to two of the guns and
themselves trained them, just as I heard a native near me cry out that in
the bows of each boat he could see a man—my husband and his chief
mate, who were both bound. Before I could utter a warning cry to Watts,
both of the guns belched out their volleys of grape, and with awful
effect. The boats were literally torn to pieces, and their mangled
occupants sank under the smooth waters of the lagoon; only two or three
seemed to have escaped unwounded, and as they clung to pieces of wreckage
our savage allies, with yells of fury, picked them off with their muskets;
for the same native who had seen my husband bound in the boat had seen him
"'No quarter to any one of them!' roared Watts when he heard this; 'the
cowards lashed Captain Eury and poor Mr. Myson to the bows of the boats,
and our own fire has killed them.'
"He sprang to the third gun, the white seaman to the fourth, and waited
for the other three boats, which, undaunted by the dreadful slaughter,
were dashing on bravely. Again the guns were fired, and again a united
yell of delight broke from our crew when one of the boats was swept from
stern to stern with the deadly grape and filled and sank. The two others,
however, escaped, and in another moment were alongside, and the officer in
command, followed by his men, sprang at the boarding nettings, and began
hacking and slashing at them with their cutlasses, only to be thrust back,
dead or dying, by our valiant crew, and the now blood-maddened natives.
Nine or ten of them did succeed in gaining a foothold on the deck, by
clambering up the bobstay on to the bowsprit, and led by a mere boy of
sixteen, made a determined charge; a native armed with a club sprang at
the youth and dashed out his brains, though at the same moment a Frenchman
thrust him through the body with his cutlass. But the boarding party were
simply overwhelmed by numbers, and in less than five minutes every one of
those who had reached the deck were slaughtered with but a loss of three
men on our side. Those still remaining in the boats alongside then tried
to draw off, but Watts, who was now more like a mad animal than a human
being, calling to some of the crew to help him, himself cut down the
boarding netting, and lifting one of the 6-pounders, hurled it bodily into
one of the boats, smashing a large hole through it. Then a score of naked
natives leapt into the remaining one, and cut and stabbed the crew till
not a living soul remained. Some indeed had tried to swim to the shore a
few minutes earlier, but these poor wretches were met by canoes, and their
brains beaten out with clubs. The memory of that awful day of carnage will
be with me if I live to be a hundred.
"As soon as possible Watts and the carpenter restored some order among our
native allies, who, according to their custom, were beheading and
otherwise mutilating the bodies of the enemy. We found that we had lost
four killed and had about thirteen wounded. Of those killed two were white
"Then taking with me half a dozen natives, I went off in one of our own
boats to the spot where our grape-shot had sunk the boat in which the
native had said he had seen my husband. The water was only about four
fathoms deep, and we could clearly see numbers of bodies lying on the
white sandy bottom. One by one they were raised to the surface and
examined, and the fifth one raised was that of my poor husband. His arms
were bound behind his back, and his chest and face were shattered by
"A wild fury took possession of me, but I could not speak. I could only
point to the ship. We went back on board, and my husband's body was laid
on deck for the crew to see.
"I hardly know what I did or said, but I do remember that Watts swore to
me that I should be revenged, and in a few minutes I was seated beside him
in one of our own boats with a pistol in my hand, and we, in company with
thirty or forty canoes, were on our way to the ships anchored outside.
"What followed I cannot remember, but Watts told me that I was the first
to spring up the side of the French brigantine, and that the captain, as I
fired my pistol at him, struck off my hand with his sword, and was then
himself cut down by the carpenter. There were but nine men on board, and
these were soon disposed of by our men, who gave no quarter. My husband's
vessel was in charge of but three of the enemy, and from them, when they
surrendered, we heard that every one of her crew, except the mate Myson
and my husband, had been cruelly slaughtered at Vavitao a few days
previously. Watts tried to save the lives of these three men, but in vain;
the natives killed them, in spite of all his efforts. They died bravely
enough, poor wretches.
"Watts and the carpenter succeeded in saving my life, and the stump of my
arm healed up very quickly, for I was always a strong and vigorous woman.
When they came to search the cabin of the French brigantine they found
that her captain—the man who had cut off my hand—was Louis
Pellatier, the very same man who, years before, had attempted to shoot my
poor husband at the Galapagos Islands.
"I sailed with Watts to Port Jackson a few months later in the French
brigantine, which was sold as a prize, and remained there for nearly two
years. Then the loneliness of my life began to affect my health, and so I
returned here to live and die. And here on this island have I lived for
nearly fifty years in peace and happiness, for since Randle and his family
came here I have been very happy, and now I only await the last call of
all—that call which will summon me to stand before the throne, side
by side with my dear husband."