1798 - Edmund Fannings
Tinian, Mariana Islands
On the fourteenth [July], had a strong trade wind from E. by S. Had had during the night, squalls of rain; at sunrise, however, it cleared up, and gave us our former fair weather. At 10 A. M. the seaman at the mast-head on the lookout, gave the welcome cry of "Land ho!" bearing W. by N. distant about seven leagues. This proved to be the Island of Tinian. At meridian, the south point of Tinian bore W. by N. half N. three leagues distant; made preparation then, by bending the cables, to bring the ship to an anchor. At 2 P. M. we were abreast of the south point, and be-gan to open the bay at the southwest part of the island, where, laying at the inner side of the reef, near to the shore, a wreck was brought to our view; upon which discovery, we set the American colors. An hour after, brought the ship to anchor in seventeen fathoms of water, over a bottom of coral rock and sand; the south point of the island then bearing S. by E. and the north-west point N. W. half N. After having the ship's sails furled, a boat was hoisted out, manned and armed, and proceeded for the shore, where several men could be seen near the wreck, which, as we drew towards it, proved to be that of a ship of between three and four hundred tons, bilged, and laying over on her side. While passing through the passage in the reef by the wreck, it had been noticed that many of the persons on the beach were Malays, and it was therefore thought to be at least the most prudent step for us to be on our guard, and make use of all proper caution in approaching them. As our boat came within a few yards of the shore, the men ceased rowing and lay on their oars, until it was ascertained who they were. On hailing the person who appeared to have command, motioned to his men to fall back, at the same time himself coming forward, and answering in English, that he was the commanding officer of the crew belonging to the wrecked vessel: he, advanced to meet us, as we landed from the boat, and after shaking hands, gave me to understand his name to be Swain, that he was an American, and was born in Nantucket, held the station of first officer on board the lost vessel, and, since the death of the captain, was of course in the chief command, soliciting my assistance in behalf of himself and shipwrecked companions; to this I could but reply, that as it was the bounden duty of every man to render all the assistance in his power, to his fellow-creatures in distress, he with his friends might rely upon receiving mine.
He then proceeded, in answer to my inquiries, how many persons there were in all of his company, to state, there were three females, and twenty-one males, viz., the captain's widow, her servant woman, and a female infant, two years of age; three officers, six British seamen, nine Lascars, and eleven Malays; while as he thus finished his statement, giving us an invitation to visit their habitations. These we found pleasantly situated on a beautiful lawn, surrounded by, and having at suitable distances about the same, stately trees, the whole appearing to be a cool and most delightful residence. The first house we arrived at was that belonging to the captain's widow, to whom I was now introduced by Mr. Swain: she was a very lady-like woman, of an easy and graceful demeanor, about thirty years of age, at the moment somewhat unwell, in consequence of the shock she had experienced from our vessel's coming so suddenly to view, and although getting gradually more composed, yet considerable anxiety still remained depicted upon her countenance. From Mr. Swain it appeared, that this lady was engaged upon some household matters in doors, while the servant woman, at the time busy in front of the house, was the first to notice the approach of our ship by the south head of the bay; it was this woman's exclaiming, "A ship! A ship!" that brought the mistress to the door, who, on beholding a vessel so near, and under full sail towards them, swooned away, and fell to the floor, nor was she brought to herself again until we were on the point of anchoring; not neglecting, while thus recovering, to offer up a thankful prayer to Heaven, for so bright a prospect of deliverance from her present situation, and a restoration once more to her country and friends. The lady herself observed, that the moment our flag was seen flying at the mizzen, it at once told them the stranger belonged to a Christian country; this of itself being a sufficient guaranty that her commander would not refuse herself and child a passage to her friends. I assured her, that together with the infant and servant maid, she was very welcome to, and should have as comfortable accommodations as our little ship could possibly afford, while on the passage. With many expressions of thankfulness on her part, for thus answering her expectations, we were invited to take a cup of tea previous to returning to the vessel, which of course we did not decline, but accepted with pleasure; and then proceeded to the next house, which was the officer's lodge: nearly in a line with these, were three others, for the seamen, Lascars, and Malays, the whole forming an oblong square, and erected by means of piles driven into the ground, other pieces connecting these at the tops, having a sharp roof thatched with palm leaves, and the turf flooring kept neat and clean by means of mats, of which they had great plenty, made them very comfortable; the men appeared to be under entire subjection to their officers, and quite content.
Within a few feet of the most inland lodge, was a well of the aborigines, or ancient inhabitants of the island; this, walled up in a very neat manner, with hewn stone, tapering from the top to the bottom, was fifteen feet diameter at the top, and five at the bottom, with a flight of thirty-six stone steps on its south side, descending to the water, which was very good. Near by this, piled up in an oblong heap, under cover of the ship's sails, was her valuable cargo of silks, teas, &c., and buried in an appropriate grove, on the side of the lawn near to their habitations, were the remains of their captain.
The habitation of Mrs. McClannon (the captain's widow), where we now repaired to fulfill our engagement, was found in very neat order: it was about twenty-four feet by twelve, the inner walls being hung round with blue nankeen, a screen of the white, separating the farther end of the room into a lodging apartment. We found the tea table already set, and most bountifully furnished with what was a very agreeable picnic for persons from a long voyage, viz., baked bread, fruit, broiled chickens, beef steaks, and China sweetmeats, to which was added an excellent cup of tea; events during their residence on the island, and other agreeable conversation, soon bringing the hour for returning to the ship at hand.
From the following particulars, as given me, at my request, by Mr. Swain, it appeared, that their ship was an English vessel, the annual supply ship from the Honourable British East India Company at Canton, for the British settlement at Sidney in New South Wales, with a full cargo on board, consisting of teas, silks, nankeens, China ware, sugar, rice, sam shu (a Chinese liquor), ginger, candy, and spices. They had, on leaving Macao, crossed the China Sea, and passed Formosa, when on gaining the longitude of Japan, were met by severe storms, so straining to the ship as caused her to leak badly. When built, this ship had been iron fastened, then sheathed with inch boards, put on with iron nails, her bottom coppered over this sheathing; this, at the time they encountered the gales and storms spoken of, was worn thin, and was continually breaking and pealing off, while the iron nails by which the board sheathing was fastened, were eaten off by the copper, so that the sheathing would start and come from the ship's bottom, thus leaving the main plank exposed; the oakum had also, from long standing, become defected, and from the ship's motion, washed out of the seams, so that the leaks rapidly increased; to remedy this unfortunate state of things, their captain had judged it most prudent to bear away for this island, supposing that by laying her on the beach within the reef, she might be repaired.
Arrived at this island, they became fully satisfied, after a survey and inspection, that it was utterly impossible for them to prosecute their voyage any farther, until the seams were recalked, as then she was only kept from sinking by continual pumping. To accomplish their determination of warping the ship through, and within the reef, then to take out her cargo previous to hauling her on the beach, to proceed with the needed repairs, they had just commenced, as a gale arose, by which the ship was cast on the reef where she now lay, and bilged; not, however, until they had succeeded in getting out the major part of the cargo.
It was now upward of thirteen months since this ship had been cast away; the crew, however, were so happy as to be thrown on one of the most fertile spots in the world; they had tamed a milk cow, a few young cattle, a number of swine, and domestic fowls; these all run wild. They had, moreover, a large supply of bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts, and many other excellent tropical fruits, besides which, their cargo, from its assorted character, furnished them with suitable clothing, as well as some of the most to be wished for articles for the table; so that they were only to be considered as suffering from the want of society. This had been the case with the lady more particularly, since the misfortune and its consequent fatigue had so pressed upon his mind, as to throw the captain into a violent fever, which in a very few days had caused his death.
A hunting party of Malays and Lascars was sent out by Mr. Swain, who had the goodness to offer us some fresh beef, to procure from among the wild herd a young heifer for this purpose. Noticing that they took only a couple of sharp hangers and knives, I inquired what they were going to do with these: in reply, Mr. Swain related their manner of taking these animals. The prairies where the numerous herds of wild cattle are in the habit of grazing, are covered with rich feed; around these are thick woods, impenetrable by reason of the underbrush, reed, vines, &c., excepting by such paths as the cattle had worn in passing to and from one prairie to another; these paths are so narrow as to oblige the cattle to go along in single file. Two men were usually posted in ambush in these narrow ways, some few feet apart, so that should the first one miss giving a deadly stroke, the second would complete the business: these being stationed, the others of the party make a circuit at a suitable distance, until they were arrived on the opposite side of the prairie in sight of the herd, when driving them off, the cattle always following the leader (a large bull), in Indian file, went by the two first mentioned men; they were allowed to pass until an animal to their liking was approaching, when the first man would strike at and endeavor to cut the ham strings; if he is so fortunate as to cut both, the creature instantly falls, and is butchered on the spot, the meat being cut into pieces sufficient for a load for each person; if not, the second seldom fails in accomplishing this end.
The party sent out this time, returned in less than two hours, with the several portions of a fine fat young animal, to be sent on board for the ship's company.
After returning to the ship, it became necessary to hold a consultation, to arrange sundry matters, and make some suitable preparations for the reception of our new and unfortunate friends, and their accommodation during the passage to Macao; this we were enabled to do by dividing our after cabin, for the greater comfort of the females, into two parts, the other being reserved for the officers; afterwards receiving six boxes and trunks of silk goods, which, together with their luggage, considering the size of our vessel and her full cargo, was all that could be taken on board, and these only for the benefit and by the desire of the widow and officers.
July 17th. The same pleasant weather which has favored us so long still continues, as well as the moderate trade wind. Having obtained wood, water, some refreshments, and an addition to our stock of provisions, of some rice, tea, sugar, &c, a young bullock, several hogs, and poultry, we were now well furnished for the passage to Macao.
It was upon Mr. Swain's proposition decided to take the Lascars along, and leave the Malays on the island, in consequence of a quarrel that had taken place while the boats were employed in transporting our passengers on board ship with the seamen and their luggage, between them, in which the Malays, intoxicated with the sam shu, had fallen upon the Lascars, and beat and wounded one of the latter seriously, by stabbing him with a cruse or dagger, so that he became faint and feeble from loss of blood, before we were able to get him on board and dress his wounds; he, however, by good nursing and attendance gradually recovered, and by the time of our arrival at Macao was nearly healed. This we the more readily acceded to, because that it was Mr. Swain's intention to charter a vessel, and return from Macao to this island for the cargo; the Malays, moreover, would have plenty of provisions, and even the comforts of life, so that there could be no likelihood of want overtaking them previous to his return, to which a farther consideration was the smallness of our ship, the quantity of water she could with other things carry, being only a moderate allowance for the company with a fair passage, exclusive of the Malays.
Being all ready for sea, we weighed anchor and made sail, leaving the eleven Malays in possession of the island, as well as in charge of the wreck and cargo, until Mr. Swain's return, which was in the space of about five months, as I subsequently learned.
Voyages and Discoveries in the South Seas 1792-1832
New York 1833; Reprint New York 1989