The Logbooks of the Lady Nelson Part 24

Captain Watson's journal is preserved at the Admiralty.) The Englishman was kept captive at a native village on the south-eastern side of the island, and stated that he had belonged to the Stedcombe. Mr. Volshawn also declared that he had seen there articles which had been taken from the Stedcombe.

Captain Watson decided to try and rescue his countryman, and on March 31st, 1839, when off Timor Laut he stood in for the island. The plan he proposed to adopt in order to carry out the rescue was to entice a chief or Orang Kaire on board and hold him as a hostage until the English sailor was produced. As his ship came in sh.o.r.e three canoes under Dutch colours put out to meet him with twelve to thirteen men in each. In answer to Captain Watson's inquiries whether there was a white man on the island some of the natives replied, "Certo; Engrise; Louron," which was translated as meaning that there was an Englishman at Louron.* (*

Lourang.) Other canoes came alongside the Essington, whose crew had been put under arms, and an Orang Kaire was allowed to come on board. Captain Watson writes: "Now was the time for carrying my plans into effect...and I told the Orang Kaire if he would bring him (the captive) to me I would give him a quant.i.ty of trade which was shown him." To this the chief agreed. But as no great faith was placed in his a.s.sertion, Watson then told him that he must send his canoes and fetch the Englishman, when he would receive his reward, but if they did not bring his prisoner he would be hung from the yard-arm, and that "we should fire our great guns on the village." The ship was now surrounded by canoes and no one was allowed to come on board excepting a very friendly chief. This man immediately pulled from his bosom a small basket of papers which were found to consist of loose sc.r.a.ps written by the crew of the Charles Eaton.* (* The Charles Eaton was wrecked in Torres Strait in 1834.) Beside these the basket contained a letter written by Lieutenant Owen Stanley, of H.M.S.

Britomart, stating that he had called here and had examined and copied the sc.r.a.ps of paper. As night was coming on the canoes were dismissed and all the natives sent away excepting the Orang Kaire who had first arrived. The other chief was anxious to remain on board with him, but Mr.

Watson would not allow him to do so.

After pacing the deck, the chief made a resolute attempt to follow his companions, tearing off the few garments which he was wearing and endeavouring to jump into the water. Early on April 1st the Essington was brought abreast of Louron. Not a canoe hove in sight until nine o'clock, when two belonging to the prisoner came alongside and the crews asked that he might be allowed to go on sh.o.r.e. This request Captain Watson refused, and shortly afterwards the friendly Orang, who again visited the ship, promised to deliver up the Englishman. At 2.30 P.M. two canoes were observed approaching the Essington, in one of which was the captive. He was dressed as a native, and when they drew close to the ship it was seen that he was in a most miserable condition. He was of fair complexion and his hair, which had been allowed to grow long, was "triced up in native custom with a comb made of bamboo," and being of a light yellow colour "it resembled the finest silk." His only garments were a sort of waistcoat without sleeves and a blue and white dungaree girdle round his loins. He looked delicate, and his face wore a woebegone expression, which apparently was habitual, while his body was covered with numberless scars and sores. The sinews of his knee-joints were very contracted, because, he told Captain Watson, he had to sit fishing so long in one position in the hot sun so that he was almost unable to walk. His ears had been perforated after the custom of the natives, and in the lobe of each he wore a piece of bamboo at least an inch in diameter.

As was to be expected, from having been fourteen years on the island, he had almost forgotten his native language and with difficulty could make himself intelligible. He was, however, able to give the following account of his life there. The Stedcombe, on leaving Melville Island, had gone to Timor Laut for live stock and had moored off Louron. Mr. Bastell, the mate in charge, then proceeded on sh.o.r.e with the crew, leaving on board the steward, a boy named John Edwards, and himself. As Mr. Bastell and the crew did not return he (Forbes) looked through the gla.s.s and then beheld their bodies stretched out on the beach--the heads severed from each. As a canoe was perceived approaching the ship, he proposed to the steward and to John Edwards that they should arm: but the former paid no attention to him. He then proposed that he and John Edwards should punch one of the bolts out of the cable and liberate the ship. They were in the act of doing this when the natives, among whom was the Orang Kaire whom Watson had detained, boarded the Stedcombe. The unfortunate steward was killed on the spot, and the two boys, expecting to share his fate, betook themselves to the rigging and were only induced to descend upon repeated promises that they would not be injured. Strange to say, the natives kept their promises, and after plundering the ship they burnt her. The boys were kept in the capacity of ordinary slaves until about four years before the coming of the Essington, when Edwards died, and since that time Forbes had been unable to move in consequence of the stiffness in his legs. The scars were caused by the natives when he incurred their displeasure. One of their common modes of punishment was to take hot embers from the fire and place them on some part of his body until it was severely burned. When asked how he was treated generally, he replied "Trada Bergouse," meaning very badly. Some few natives, he said, were kind to him, among them the chief who had produced the papers. Speaking of the chief of Louron, he remarked, "Louron cuts me down to the ground"

which was thought to imply that he flogged him and knocked him down.

Whenever a vessel hove in sight the chief would have him bound hand and foot and keep him so, as long as the vessel remained at the island. This explains why Lieutenant Stanley did not see him when he called in H.M.S.

Britomart. Some of the crew of the Charles Eaton had come there and wished him to leave with them, but permission was refused. Lastly a Chinese trader had wished to purchase him and had offered several "gown pieces" as the price, but this offer too was declined. When Kolff called with two Dutch men-of-war, he and his men would have nothing to do with him, nor would they a.s.sist him to escape.

Forbes gave accounts of many ships having been cut off by these pirates but only two clear accounts--the one of a China junk which they boarded, murdered and plundered the crew, and eventually burnt, and the other a schooner manned with black men, which they plundered afterwards liberating the men. He also said that a whaler had been cast away seven moons ago, and that two whale-boats and one jolly-boat with only five people in all arrived at Timor Laut. This story, however, was confused and incoherent.

When Captain Bremer arrived at Sydney in H.M.S. Alligator about the same time as the Essington, he had Forbes placed in the hospital there and wrote to the Admiralty asking for inquiries to be made about his relatives and to inform them of his existence. In his despatch Captain Bremer remarked that even Forbes's features seemed to have "a.s.similated themselves" to those of the islanders.

The kindly chief was afterwards rewarded, as was Captain Watson, by the Admiralty. The Orang Kaire of Louron seems to have escaped scot free, having left the Essington as Forbes was being brought on board. Forbes afterwards retired to Williamstown, Victoria, where he spent the rest of his life as a fisherman, and it is said that he never quite recovered from the effects of his harsh bondage.

The last news of the Lady Nelson was brought to Sydney some time after her capture by a ship called the Faith, which reported that the hull of the Lady Nelson was still to be seen with her name painted on the stern at the island of Baba.

It was an unworthy end to a very gallant ship, but the record of the useful work that she accomplished survives and will have its place in every history of Australia.

APPENDIX.

H.M.S. BUFFALO: SHIP'S MUSTER, 1801 TO 1805.

No separate muster of the ship's company of the Lady Nelson can be found among the Public Records, but during the period that she was attached to H.M.S. Buffalo in New South Wales the names of her crew and of the supernumeraries sailing in her were inscribed in the books of that ship, four pages from which are here reproduced. The first three of these give the names of the officers and seamen who composed the complement of the Lady Nelson in 1801, 1803 and 1804. The fourth page is an extract from the Buffalo's own muster-roll when she conveyed the first Norfolk Island settlers to Port Dalrymple in 1805, the Government having decided to break up their settlement. Among the pa.s.sengers on board the Buffalo were Mrs. Elizabeth Paterson the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, Mr.

Williams, Acting Surveyor-General, and Ann Williams, possibly a relative of his. With the Norfolk Island settlers was William Lee, to whom this volume is dedicated, then a lad ten years of age, who afterwards became one of the first pioneers in the Bathurst district.

The story of the Buffalo's arrival at Port Dalrymple is told in a letter written to Earl Camden by Colonel Paterson from Yorktown as follows:--

"On the 4th April H.M.S. Buffalo arrived from Port Jackson by which conveyance I received a proportion of such stores and provisions as could be spared, 120 ewes, 2 rams, 6 cows, 2 bulls, 1 mare, and 1 horse: 50 prisoners were also sent.

"Five settlers arrived at the same time from Norfolk Island with the Acting Surveyor-General to measure out the allotments necessary for them.

Soon after their arrival I accompanied them to different situations as far as Supply River, which is about 10 miles from Headquarters. After examining the ground they chose their allotments on the banks of a run, 2 miles to the south-east of this place. Mr. Riley, Acting Deputy-Commissary, recommended also to have the advantages of free settlers, chose his ground also in this situation. They proceeded to clear the ground and to cultivate. Everyone exerted themselves as much as possible, but those who cultivated on the sides of the hills were deceived in their choice and too much disappointed in the first appearance of their crops, the low ground being also found subject to temporary floods. AS THEY WERE THE FIRST SETTLERS, I have recommended them to his Excellency, as a remuneration of their losses, to have grants of land on the north side of the main river Tamar extending up the river South Esk. My motive for recommending this situation is that they cannot fail in success as it is a part of the country the colony must look to for grain. The first twelve months being now past I have every reason to believe the greatest of our difficulties have been surmounted...It is not for me to presume to be acquainted with the particular causes which rendered it necessary this colony should be established, but if its desirable situation in the important pa.s.sage of Ba.s.s Streights was one of the objects, it appears to me necessary that a large establishment should ever remain here while the interests of Great Britain are to be effected in this part of the world, and I can a.s.sure your Lordship I have seen no country yet that offers such inducements to be retained.*

I have, etc.,

W. PATERSON."

(* The remaining Norfolk Island Settlers were later on removed to Tasmania in different ships, the Lady Nelson conveying many of them to their new home. Historical Records of New South Wales volume 5 page 732.)

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