1798 - Edmund Fannings
Missionary Crook Escapes
At 3 P.M. on the lighting up of a rain squall, a small canoe, in which only two persons were to be seen, was observed hastening towards the ship, coming from the western part of the island, or from some spot to the westward of the harbor. All the natives had recently left us, and who this stranger could be, was a question none on board could answer. It appeared to be so singular a circumstance, that notwithstanding the imperative necessity their existed for securing an anchorage in the harbor, if possible, before night should close in upon us, that the ship was hove to to wait until these persons should arrive something nearer. As their small canoe came alongside, we were greatly astonished to hear one of the persons exclaim in our mother tongue, "Sir, I am an Englishman, and now call upon, as I have come to you, to preserve my life." Words cannot express my surprise at this moment, on hearing so unexpected, a claim. The stranger was instantly assisted in getting up the gangway, and no sooner had attained the deck, than observing, "I am a missionary," he sank into a seat provided for him on the quarter-deck, and bowed his head for a few minutes, in this position returning thanks to that Heavenly Being who protects even the sparrow; meanwhile, regardless of those around, he seemed only anxious to acknowledge his Creator's kindness in thus once more giving him freedom. After receiving the assurance of being among Christian friends, and becoming a little more composed, he arose, and proceeded to give an account of past transactions on the island.
"Thank Heaven! sir," I answered to one of his inquiries, "you are safe." He then stated himself to be the Rev. William Pascoe Crook, whom the Missionary Society in London had sent out to these islands, were he had been landed some months past, from the missionary ship Duff, Captain Wilson; that the recent, as well the present disposition of the natives towards him, had kept his mind in a continued state of uneasiness for weeks past; that in two instances of narrow escape, he owed the preservation of his life, under God's blessing, to his friend, the native chief who had accompanied him on board, and whom he at this time introduced, adding the wish to remain with the ship until he could be landed in some place of safety. In reply, I observed, that the character he bore was a sufficient recommendation to insure for himself all the comforts and accommodation our ship could afford, and that he was at liberty to consider her as his home, and make use of the cabin as freely and equally with myself, until we should arrive at New York again.
After introducing Mr Crook to the officers, and requesting their particular attention in his behalf, together with his friend the chief, he was led below, into the cabin, where, upon being seated, my limited wardrobe was spread before him, with a request that he would select for himself. Mr Crook was at this time dressed in the native garb of the island, having only the maro on (a piece of cloth manufactured by the natives, which wound around the middle of the body, with one end passing down in front, is tucked up at the back, under the part which goes around the body); the remaining portion of his person from being continually exposed to the sun, had become tanned nearly as brown as the chiefs themselves were; and this mode of dress he had been under the necessity of submitting to for months past. At his request (he thinking it would not be judicious to choose out or accept any portions of dress so long as his friend the chief remained on board), the selection of garments was left until the chief should go on shore. At the same time Mr. Crook stated that he felt very anxious to communicate to me some information respecting the state of the island, which would have a reference to the government of my future proceedings; as he conceived, from the knowledge he possessed, that the utmost danger awaited us if we should work into the harbor, as was at present our intention. Upon learning this, the officer in command on deck received immediate orders not to proceed any farther in endeavoring to work the ship into the chops of the harbor.
The Reverend Gentleman then went on to state, that a few months after the ship Duff, Captain Wilson, in which vessel he had arrived at this Island, had left. Another ship had touched there, for water and refreshments, from which an Italian renegado had deserted, and secreting himself until the vessel's departure, still remained on the island. This man was possessed of a very insinuating manner, and had moreover taken with him, at the time of his leaving the ship, a musket, a quantity of powder, and some balls, by means of which he very soon so far ingratiated himself into the favor of the leading or principal chief, as to become a prominent director in the affairs of the island. It was upon this man's proposition, that the war with the natives of La Dominique [Hivaoa], which had raged for some time with all that savageness and barbarity peculiar to their mode of warfare, had been commenced; he had also instigated them to fight against another tribe, adjoining whose land lay the estate and place of residence of the chief which had brought Mr Crook on board. This was at a considerable distance to the westward of the harbor, and was the spot whence they had paddled off to the ship, and where, in company with his friend, the chief, Mr Crook had been keeping watch, anxiously waiting for an opportunity to carry their plan of escape into effect. It was in consequence of Mr Crook's disapproving of the wicked plans and enterprises of this fellow, and because, as feeling it to be his solemn duty to his God, and these his fellow-mortals, he had protested against his farther leading them on in furtherance of his abominable practices, that he had become bitterly opposed to Mr Crook and was the cause of all his painful distress; to such an extent did this Italian's hatred for Mr Crook lead him, that at last the principal chieftain and several of the petty chiefs, were (by him) induced to watch for an opportunity to murder Mr Crook. The natives were the more ready to submit to this Italian's management, because of his possessing the musket, powder, and shot; the wonderful superiority of this instrument in battle over their own arms, leading them to believe he was invincible; and with his aid, he persuaded them that they would not only be enabled to conquer all the tribes in both the islands, make them to be subjects, and pay tribute to their principal chief, but would furnish sufficient means for them to take and destroy every vessel that would hereafter stop at their harbor, and possess themselves of all the iron and valuables: but before anything of this kind could be done, he was exceedingly solicitous that they should massacre Mr Crook.
This gentleman, while alone among the Indians, had, by his kind behavior and regard for their well being, secured the affections of many of the chiefs, but none were so warmly attached to him as his friend who had brought him off: this man being their first war chief, a station giving its possessor, much influence and weight in their counsels, and second to none in the tribe, except the principal leader, had often boldly confronted them, and exposed his own life to save that of Mr Crook, which was daily in imminent danger, from the ambushes and snares that were laid to entrap him, continually changed, and suited as they were to destroy him, as he was found to be more or less attended by his friend; unable, however, to succeed in their wicked attempts, at the same time well knowing that both Mr Crook and his friend were acquainted with the plan of operations, and therefore sure that if either of them should succeed in getting to the ship, their hopes of cutting her off would be at an end, by the disclosures they would make, word had been sent to them early in the day, by which both were informed that it was the desire of the principal chief, that neither should go on board the ship (which, according to a custom among the chiefs, amounted to a taboo), as he had concluded to go and see the Captain himself. In order to secure the more faithful obedience to this mandate, and watch over them, a petty chief frequently called from the harbor (using as a cover for his main errand), to consult on the plan, report progress, and counsel and advise with the chief at his residence; here had these two, the moment our ship first appeared in sight, kept a lookout, and so soon as those two chiefs, who had remained so long on board, acting partly as pilots (one of them whom we now learned was the principal, the other one of his counsellors), were known to have left the ship with the other natives; they embraced the opportunity offered by the thick rain squall, and put off; their risk was great, for death it was thought, would have been the certain lot of both, had they been intercepted. There really appeared to be a particular providence attending us, and I am free to acknowledge, that afterwards I felt self-condemned, for having suffered my mind to be chafed by the obstruction experienced in our advance, from those squalls and gales of wind, and which had been, by preventing our getting into the harbor, the means of our preservation; as most likely, had we this day so anchored, all would have been cut off and massacred. Our ship was to have been their first victim, and from her small size, would have been the very one to be desired, as they were much more likely to succeed upon her than against a larger.
We now saw distinctly, the reason why the two chiefs were so earnest in their solicitations to have us enter their harbor; as also why the productions of the island were so very scarce: the renegado had, in fact, been completely successful in engaging the head chief to take the very prominent part in his plan of operations, which he was then acting out, and as there was not on the island, at this moment, a supply for our ship, the promise that an abundance should be given us, was but a portion of his share in the villainous scheme.
The mode by which they expected to succeed in the capture of our vessel, as we now learned, was, when night shut in, to send off swimmers and divers with the end of a rope, to be made fast to the ship's rudder hangings still keeping the other end on shore; the ship's cable was next to be cut off under water, and so soon as this was accomplished, the natives on shore were prepared to haul away on the line, and drag her with what force they could muster, on shore. The Italian, in all this design, had proved himself a cold-blooded monster, and a man altogether void of any humane feeling. He had made the people believe that their success was certain, and lest a vestige should have remained, by which the affair could ever have been discovered, all hands were at once to have been destroyed, and the vessel burned. Thus they hoped to gain two points at once; suffering nothing of the vessel, or any of the crew, to remain in existence, and secure all the iron, an article which they held in great estimation; the powder, cannon, and fire-arms, were to be kept for the purpose of more easily taking the next vessel that should arrive, as well as a means by which they were at once to be made more powerful than the other tribes, whom they could then safely go to war against; thus becoming the most wealthy, most powerful and of course the greatest of all the islanders in the Pacific. The whole plan seemed to them as easy to be accomplished; great dependence was also placed upon the divers and swimmers, and very few of the natives but were proficient in this business. The utmost silence too was to be preserved, and thus they expected to avoid detection from the watch on deck: when the cable was cut, by hauling the ship astern, until she went aground, they were made to believe she would immediately keel over, so that her great guns would become unserviceable, and their superiority in numbers make the capture an easy one.
Thus engaged in conversation, the time had passed very rapidly, and it was near sunset when the chief, getting more and more uneasy, was informed by Mr Crook, that as he had now found an opportunity to return to his country, it was his duty to embrace it, and therefore he could no more go back with him to the shore. The chieftain was much distressed at this announcement, and expressed himself as fearing that he should not long survive the separation; but knowing the danger Mr Crook was exposed to in going again into the canoe, he could not ask him so to do; yet hoped it would not be many moons before he would again see him back to their country, together with Captain Wilson, by which time their wars would be ended, and all things put right. Mr Crook was much affected by the chief's attachment for him, and replied, that if Heaven was so pleased, he hoped ere long to have the happiness to take him by the hand again, reminding him at the same time of the promise he had given to notify the captain of the next vessel, and of all others that should come to their island of the danger, in time to prevent their receiving the smallest harm to crew or vessel, this he promised most faithfully to perform.
Voyages and Discoveries in the South Seas 1792-1832
New York 1833; Reprint New York 1989