By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore, and Other Stories
Part 2 out of 4
anchored on the placid waters of the land-locked harbour. As the fleecy,
cloud-like mist which, during the night, had enveloped the forest-clad
spurs and summit of Mont Buache, was dispelled by the first airs of the
awakened trade wind and the yellow shafts of sunrise, a fleet or canoes
crowded with natives put off from the sandy beach in front of the king's
house, and paddled swiftly over towards the ships, the captains of which
only awaited their arrival to weigh and tow out through the passage.
As the mist lifted, Cayse, the master of the _Iroquois_ of Sagharbour,
stepped briskly up on the poop, and hailed the skipper of the other
vessel, a small, yellow-painted barque of less than two hundred tons.
"Are you ready, Captain Ross?"
"All ready," was the answer; "only waiting for the military," and then
followed a hoarse laugh.
Cayse, a little, grizzled, and leathern-faced man of fifty, replied by
an angry snarl, then turned to his mate, who stood beside him awaiting
"Get these natives settled down as quickly as possible, Mr. North, then
start to heave-up and loose sails. I reckon we'll tow out in an hour.
The king will be here presently in his own boat. Hoist it aboard."
North nodded in silence, and was just moving on to the main deck, when
Cayse stopped him.
"You don't seem too ragin' pleased this mornin', Mr. North, over this
business. Naow, as I told you yesterday, I admire your feelin's on the
subject, but I can't afford--"
The mate's eyes blazed with anger.
"And I tell you again that I won't have anything to do with it. I know
my duty, and mean to stick to it. I shipped for a whaling voyage, and
not to help savages to fight. Take my advice and give it up. Money got
in this way will do you no good."
Cayse shifted his feet uneasily.
"I can't afford to sling away the chance of earnin' two or three
thousan' dollars so easy. An' you'll hev to do your duty to me. Naow,
North raised his hand.
"That will do. I have said I will do my duty as mate, but not a hand's
turn will I take in such bloody work as you and the skipper of that
crowd of Sydney cut-throats and convicts are going into for the sake of
six thousand dollars."
"Well, I reckon we can do without you. Any one would think we was going
piratin', instead of helping the king of this island to his rights.
Naow, just tell me--"
Again the mate interrupted him.
"I am going for'ard to get the anchor up, and will obey all your orders
as far as the working of the ship is concerned--nothing more."
An hour later the two vessels, their decks crowded with three hundred
savages, armed with muskets, spears, and clubs, were towed out through
the narrow, reef-bound passage, and with the now freshening trade wind
filling their sails, set a course along the coast which before sunset
would bring them to Leasse, on the lee side of the island. But
presently, in response to a signal from the _Lucy May_, the whaler lay
to; a boat put off from the smaller ship, and Captain Ross came
alongside, clambered over the bulwarks and joined Cayse and the young
king of Port Lele, who were awaiting him on the poop, to discuss with
him the plan of surprise and slaughter of the offending people of
* * * * *
Nearly a week before the _Iroquois_ had run into Port Lele to refresh
before proceeding westward and northward to the Bonin Islands in
pursuance of her cruise. Charlik, the king, was delighted to see Cayse,
for in the days when his father was king the American captain had
conveyed a party of one hundred Strong's Islanders from Port Lele to
MacAskill's Island, landed them in his boats during the night, and stood
off and on till daylight, when they returned reeking from their work of
slaughter upon the sleeping people, and bringing with them some scores
of women and children as captives. For this service the king had given
Cayse half a ton of turtle-shell, and the services of ten young men as
seamen for as long a time as the _Iroquois_ cruised in the Pacific on
that voyage. When Charlik's father was dying, he called his head chiefs
around him, and gave the boy into their care with these words--"Here die
I upon my mat like a woman, long before my time, and to-morrow my spirit
will hear the mocking laughs of the men of Mout and Leasse, when they
say, 'Sikra is dead; Sikra was but an empty boaster.'"
Then his son spoke.
"Not many days shall they laugh. They shall be destroyed all, all, all
The king touched his son's hand.
"Those are good words. But be not too hasty. Wait till the American
comes again. He will help with his men and guns. But he is a greedy man.
Yet spare nothing; give him all the silver and gold money I have stored
by for his return, and all the turtle-shell that can be gathered
together. And let there be not even one little child left in Mout or
Charlik was a lad or seventeen when his savage old father died, and for
a year after his death he harried and distressed his people by his
exactions. All day long the men toiled at making coconut oil, and at
night time they watched along the beaches for the hawk-bill turtle; the
oil they put into huge butts, which stood in the king's boat-sheds, and
the costly turtle-shell was taken by the young ruler and locked up in
the seamen's chests which lined the inside wall of the great
council-house. And no man durst now fire a musket at a wild pig, for
powder and ball had been made _tapu_--such things were given up to the
chiefs, lest they might be wasted, and every morning three young men
climbed up the rugged side of Mont Buache, to keep a look-out for the
ship whose captain would help their master to wreak a bloody vengeance
upon the rebellious people of Leasse.
At the end of the sixteenth month of watching, a sail appeared coming
from the southward, and the watchers on the mountain-top sped down to
the king's house, and sinking upon their knees in the courtyard of coral
slabs, whispered their news to one of the king's serving-men, who, with
a musket in his hand and a cutlass girt around his naked waist, stood
sentry before the youthful despot's sleeping-room.
"Good," said the king to Kanka, his head chief; "'tis surely the
American Kesa, for this is the month in which he said he would
return. Let the women make ready a great feast, and launch my three
boats, so that if the wind fail, when the sun is high, they may help to
drag the ship into Lele."
Then came the sound of beating drums, and the long, mournful note of the
conch-shells calling the wild people together to prepare for the ship.
Turtle were lifted from their walled-in prison holes on the reef, hogs
were strangled, and the king's wives went hither and thither among his
slave women, bidding them hasten to kindle the ovens, whilst children
went out into the great canework cage, wherein were hundreds of the
king's wild pigeons, and seizing the birds, began to pluck them alive.
An hour passed. Charlik, sitting in a European chair, was watching the
wild bustle and excitement around him in the courtyard, when his eye
fell on the three messengers, who, with bent head and bended knees, were
awaiting his further commands.
Beckoning to a young, light-skinned woman, who stood near him, he bade
her bring him three of his best pearl-shell bonito hooks. They were
brought, and taking them from her, he threw them to the men.
"Ye have watched well," he said. "There is thy reward. Now go and eat
With eyes sparkling with pleasure, the young men each took up his
precious gift, and with crouching forms crept slowly over to the further
side of the courtyard, where they were waited upon by women with food.
Presently the fair young woman--his sister Se--returned to her brother's
"The ship is near," she said, and then her voice faltered; "but it is
not the ship of Kesa. It is but a small ship, and she hath but two
boats. Kesa's had five."
"What lies are these?" said the young savage fiercely. "Go look again."
The girl left him, to return a few minutes later with grey-headed old
Kanka, who in response to an inquiring look from his master, bent his
head and said slowly--
"'Tis a strange ship--one that never before have we seen in Lele."
The youth made him no answer. He merely raised his arm and pointed his
finger at the three messengers.
"Then they have lied to me. Bring them here to me."
Kanka stepped over to where the fated men were sitting. They rose at his
behest, and crept over to the king; behind them, at some invisible sign
given by him, followed a man with a heavy club of _toa_ wood. The
clamour which had filled the courtyard ceased, and terrified silence
fell. One by one the messengers knelt upon the coral flags--no need for
them to ask for mercy from Charlik, the savage son of a bloodstained
father. The bearer of the club held the weapon knob downward, and
watched the king's face for the signal of death. He nodded, and then,
one after another of the men were struck and fell prone upon the stones.
With scowling eyes Charlik regarded them for a moment or two in silence,
then he turned unconcernedly away, as some of his slaves came forward
and carried the bodies out of sight.
Suddenly he sprang to his feet, as a loud, long cry, first from a single
throat, and then echoed and reechoed by a hundred more, came upward from
"A ship! A ship! Another ship! The ship of Kesa!"
Bidding his sister and the old chief Kanka to come with him, Charlik
quickly left the house, and walking through a grove of breadfruit trees,
reached a spot from where he had a full view of the open sea. There
right in the passage was a small barque; and, almost within hail, and
just rounding the northern horn of the reef was a larger vessel, one
glance at which told Charlik that it was the American whaler for which
he had so long waited. In less than an hour they were at anchor abreast
of the king's house, and the two captains were being rowed ashore. They
met on the beach. The master of the smaller vessel was a tall,
broad-shouldered man, armed with a pair of pistols and a cutlass.
Striding over the sand he held out his hand to the American.
"Good day. My name's Ross, barque _Lucy May_, of Sydney, from the New
Hebrides to Hong Kong with sandalwood."
"Glad to meet ye. My name is Cayse, ship _Iroquois_, bound on a sperm
Further speech was denied them, for suddenly the thronging and excited
natives around them drew aside right and left as Charlik, with a face
beaming with smiles, came up to Cayse with outstretched hand, and
greeted him warmly in English. Then he turned quickly to the Englishman
and shook hands with him also, and asked him from whence he came.
"From Sydney. I came here to get wood, water, and provisions."
"Good. You can get all you want. Have you muskets and bullets to sell?"
"I can spare you some."
"Ah, that is good. I want plenty, plenty. Now come to my house and eat
and drink; then we can talk."
It was well on towards sunset before Charlik and Cayse had finished
their talk. Ross meanwhile had gone on board the barque for some
firearms which he was giving the king in exchange for several boatloads
of provisions. When he returned, with two of his crew carrying six
muskets, a keg of powder, and a bag of bullets, Cayse met him on the
threshold of the king's house.
"Come inside, mister. The king wants to talk to you on a matter of
business. I reckon you an' me together can do what he wants done. But
jest come along with me first. I want to show you the kind of fellow he
is when he gets upset."
The master of the sandalwooder followed the American across the wide
courtyard to some native houses. Stopping in front of one, from which
the low murmur of women's voices, broken now and then by a wailing cry,
proceeded, he desired Ross to look in through the doorway. A small fire
of coconut shells was burning in the centre of the room, and _by_ its
light Ross saw several women crouched round the bodies of three men,
performing the last offices for the dead. They looked at the white
strangers with apathetic indifference, but ceased their labours whilst
Ross bent down and examined the still faces. His scrutiny was brief,
but it was enough.
Cayse gave a sniggering laugh. "I reckon you'll feel sorter startled,
mister, when I tell you that you were the cause of those men getting
Ross frowned angrily. "What are you driving at? What the devil had I to
do with it?"
"On'y this. You see I'm the white-headed boy with this young island
cock, an' he's been expectin' to see the _Iroquois_ for quite a time.
Your barque happened to heave in sight first, an' these three fellows
who were standin' mast-head watch up thar on the mountain, came tearin'
down an' reported that it was my old hooker. Charlik bein' a most
impatient young fellow, had 'em clubbed on the spot; he should hev
waited another five minutes. Come on, he's ready to talk business with
In the centre of the big council room Charlik, attended by his sister,
was seated upon a mat. A couple of brightly burning ship's lanterns
suspended from the beams overhead, revealed the figures of a score of
armed natives, seated with their backs to the canework walls of the
room; midway between them and the young king were two seamen's chests,
beside which crouched the half-naked, tatooed form or old Kanka.
Followed by the sailors carrying the muskets, the two captains walked
over the soft, springy floor of mats, and seated themselves facing the
young man. His eye lit up at the sight of the arms, and then he desired
Ross to tell his men to withdraw. Then as the sound of their footsteps
died away, he looked at Cayse and said briefly--
"Go on, capen. You talk."
Cayse went into the subject at once.
"Captain Ross, do you want to earn three thousand dollars?"
"Neither do I. Well, just listen. The king here has three thousand
dollars in cash and three thousand dollars' worth of coconut ile and
turtle-shell. Now, if you and I will help him to do a bit of fightin'
it's ours. The money and shell is here in this room, the ile is in the
sheds near by. If you agree, the king will hand us over the money now,
and we can ship the ile in the morning."
Ross thought a moment, then he said suspiciously--
"Why are you giving me a chance?"
"Not from any feelin' of affection for you, mister," answered Cayse with
his peculiar snarl, "but because I ain't able to do the whole business
myself--if I could I wouldn't ask _you_ to come in. Now, I noticed this
mornin' that you carry a big crew, and have six guns, and I reckon thet
you hev to use 'em sometimes in your business?"
Ross laughed grimly. "All of us sandalwooding ships carry a few
nine-pounders as well as plenty of small arms. We are allowed to do so
by the Governor of New South Wales."
"Just so. Well, now, listen. This island is governed by two chiefs;
this one here, Charlik, has most people, but the other lot, who live on
the lee side of the island, rebelled against his father more'n ten years
ago. They've had a good many fights, an' in the last one these Lele
people got badly whipped. Charlik is the proper king, but ever since a
white man named Ledyard went to live with the Leasse people, they've
refused to pay tribute. This Ledyard is the cause of all the trouble,
and he has taught his natives how to fight European fashion. There's
only about six hundred of 'em altogether--men, women, and
The young chief nodded in assent.
"Now, by a bit of luck, news came up the other day by one of Charlik's
spies that Ledyard has gone away to Ponape in a cutter he has built. It
will take him two or three weeks to go there and back, and now is the
time for Charlik to wipe out old scores--the Leasse people won't stand
much of a chance agin' a night attack by three hundred of Charlik's
people. If Ledyard was there it would be different."
Ross soon made his decision. He was a man utterly without pity, and
Cayse who, while inciting others to slaughter for the sake of his own
gain, yet had some grains of compunction in his nature, almost shuddered
when the master of the _Lucy May_ laughed hoarsely and said--
"It's a bargain--just the thing that my crowd could tackle and carry
through themselves. Two voyages ago me and my beauties wiped out every
living soul on one of the Cartaret's Islands. I'll tell you the yarn
some day. But look here, king, can't we make another deal about the
women and children. Let me keep as many of them as I have room for
aboard, and I'll pay for them in muskets and powder and bullets."
"What do you want with them?"
"Sell them to old Abba Dul, the king of the Pelews. I've done business
with him before."
Charlik called Kanka over to him, and the two spoke in low tones. Then
the young ruler of Lele shook his head.
"No. There must be but one left to live--the white man's wife. Now we
shall count this money."
The boxes were carried over directly under the rays of the lamps and
opened, the bags containing the money lifted out, the coins counted, and
then evenly divided between the two wolves.
On the following morning the casks of oil were rolled down to the beach
and rafted off to the two ships, and before dawn, on the fourth day,
Ross and his fellow-ruffian sent word ashore to the king that all was
ready, and that he and his fighting men could come on board at once and
proceed on their dreadful mission.
As the two captains and their ferocious young employer sat on the
snow-white poop of the _Iroquois_ and discussed the plan of attack, the
ship and barque kept closely together, so closely that North, who had
not yet placed foot on board the sandalwooder, had now an opportunity of
looking down upon her decks, and watching the actions of those who
manned her. A more ragged and desperate looking lot of ruffians he had
never seen in his life; and their wild, unkempt appearance was in
perfect accord with the _Lucy May_ herself, whose dirty, yellow sides
were stained from stem to stern with long streaks and broad patches of
iron-rust. Aloft she was in as equally a bad condition, and North and
his fellow-officers, used to the trimness and unceasing care of a
whaleship's sails and running gear, looked with contempt at the disorder
and neglect everywhere visible. On deck, however, some attempt at
setting things ship-shape were being made by the two mates and
boatswain, the six guns were being overhauled, and a pile of muskets
lying on the main hatch were being examined and passed up to the poop
one by one, to old Kanka, who was in command of the contingent of Lele
natives on board the barque. Similar preparations with small arms were
being made on board the _Iroquois_ by her crew which, largely composed
of Chilenos, Portuguese, and Polynesians, had eagerly accepted the offer
of twenty dollars for each man for a few hours' fighting. North alone
had spoken against and tried to dissuade his fellow-officers from taking
any active part in the expedition, but his remonstrances fell upon
unheeding ears. The details of the scheme to surprise the unsuspecting
inhabitants of the two villages had filled him with unutterable horror
and indignation, and all sorts of wild plans formed in his brain to
prevent the accomplishment of the cruel deed. For the consequences of
such interference to himself he cared nothing. He was alone in the
world, and had no thought beyond that of making enough money to enable
him to one day buy a ship of his own. Once, as he passed the trio on the
poop, and glanced at the smooth, olive-coloured features of the young
king, who, with anticipative zest, was fondling a rifle which Ross had
brought on board for him, he felt inclined to whip a belaying-pin out of
the rail and bring it crashing down upon his skull. Had there been any
other ship but the _Lucy May_ near, he would have left the _Iroquois_
that moment. But help was coming to his troubled mind.
An hour before sunset the two vessels ran into a little harbour, then
called Port Lottin, but now known as South Harbour by the few wandering
whalers which sometimes touch at the island. Here, ere it became dark,
the natives, with fourteen of the _Lucy May's_ crew under Ross, were
landed. They were to march at early morning, cross the mountain range
which intervened between South Harbour and Leasse, and then, hidden by
the dense forest, await the appearance of the ships off the doomed
villages on the following afternoon. The six boats--two from the _Lucy
May_ and four from the _Iroquois_--were to pull ashore as soon as the
ships were off Leasse and take up positions, three to the north and
three to the south, so as to cut off all who attempted to escape along
the beaches from the attack which would be made by Ross. Charlik was to
command one of the boat parties, Cayse the other, and should any canoes
with fugitives attempt to gain the open sea, they were to be sunk by the
_Lucy May's_ guns, for she was to anchor in such a position that an
escaping canoe would have to pass within fifty yards of her.
* * * * *
Eight bells had struck, and North, who had declined to join the captain
and his fellow-officers at supper, was sitting in his cabin smoking and
listening to the soft hum of the surf on the barrier reef a mile away.
On deck all was quiet, only the fourth mate and three of the hands were
keeping watch, the rest of the crew who were not turned in had gone
ashore to witness a dance given by King Charlik's warriors.
Suddenly he heard a footfall on the cabin deck, and then some one said
in a low voice--
"May I come in, sir?"
North, recognising the voice as that of a young man named Macy, his own
harpooner, at once bade him enter.
Macy, a sunburnt, blue-eyed youth, closed the cabin door behind him, and
held up his finger to enjoin silence.
"I've only just now heard, sir, that you will not take a hand in this
work which is going on. Neither will I, sir; for those damned savages
are going to kill all the poor women and children. I've come to ask you
what I'm to do if I'm ordered away in the boat? My God! Mr. North, must
we all be turned into a gang of murderers like those fellows on the
The officer shook the young seaman's hand. "I for one will have no hand
in it, my lad; and I wish there were more of us on board of our way of
thinking. I wish we could leave the ship. I would rather die of thirst
on the open ocean ... Macy, my lad, will you stand to me?"
"Stand to you, sir! Aye, Mr. North. If you mean to take to our boat,
sir, I am with you."
"No," answered North in a whisper. "That, after all, would only save us
two from being mixed up in this murderous business--I want to prevent it
altogether. Have you heard how far it is across the island to this place
"Seven miles, sir, over the mountains."
"And twenty by the boats! Macy, I am determined to leave the ship
to-night, cut across the island, and save the poor people from massacre.
Will you come? We may pay for it with our lives."
The harpooner raised his rough hand. "We must all die some day, sir."
For some minutes they conversed in whispered tones; then Macy slipped on
deck, and North took his pistols from their racks, filled his coat
pockets with ammunition, and then followed him. His own boat was lying
Telling the cooper, who was the only one of the afterguard on deck, that
he was going ashore to look at the dance, and that only Macy and another
hand need come with him, North ordered the boat to be hauled alongside.
A quarter of an hour later he and Macy stepped out upon the shore under
the shadow of a high bluff, and quite out of view from Ross and his
party, although the many camp-fires cast long lines of light across the
sleeping waters of the little harbour.
Informing the boat-keeper that they should return in a couple of hours,
the two men first walked along the beach in the direction of the
encampment. Then once out of sight from the boat, they struck inland
into a deep valley through which, Macy said, a narrow track led up to
the range, and then downwards to the two villages. After a careful
search the track was found, and the bright stars shining through the
canopy of leaves overhead gave them sufficient light to pursue their
way. For two hours they toiled along through the silent forest, hearing
no sound except now and then the affrighted rush of some startled wild
boar, and, far distant, the dull cry of the ever-restless breakers upon
the coral reef. At last the summit of the range was reached, and they
sat down to rest upon the thick carpet of fallen leaves which covered
the ground. Here North took a spirit-flask from his jacket, and Macy and
he drank in turns.
"Do you know, sir," said Macy, as he returned the flask to the officer,
"that there's a white man living at this village?"
"He's not there now, Macy. He's gone away to another island in his
"I know that, sir. I've heard all about it from one of the chaps on the
_Lucy May_. The man's name is Ledyard, and this young devil's-limb of a
king hates him like poison--for two reasons. One is, that Ledyard, who
settled in Leasse a few years ago, taught the people there how to use
their muskets in a fight, when Charlik's father tried to destroy them
time and again; the other is that his wife is a white woman--or almost a
white woman, a Bonin Island Portuguese--and Charlik means to get her.
When Ledyard comes back in his cutter he will walk into a trap, and be
killed as soon as he steps ashore."
North struck his hand upon the ground. "And to think that I have sailed
with such a villain as Cayse, who--"
"That's not all. Ledyard has two children. Charlik has given orders for
them to be killed, as he says he only wants the woman! Ross, I believe,
wanted him to spare 'em, but the young cut-throat said 'No.' I heard all
this from two men--the chap from the _Lucy May_ and one of Charlik's
fighting men, who speaks English and seems to have a soft place in his
heart for Ledyard."
The mate of the _Iroquois_ sprang to his feet. "The cold-blooded
wretches! Come on, Macy. We _must_ get there in time."
For another two hours they made steady progress through the darkened
forest aisles, and then as they emerged out upon a piece of open
country, they saw far beneath them the gleaming sea. And here, amidst a
dense patch of pandanus palms, the path they had followed came to an
end. Pushing their way through the thorny leaves, which tore the skin
from their hands and faces, Macy exclaimed excitedly--
"We're all right, sir. I can see a light down there. It must be a fire
on the beach."
Heedless of the unknown dangers of the deep descent, and every now and
then tripping and falling over the roots of trees and fallen timber,
they again came out into the open, and there, two hundred feet below
them, they saw the high-peaked, saddle-backed houses of Leasse village
standing clearly out in the starlight. But at this point their further
progress was barred by a cliff, which seemed to extend for half a mile
on both sides of them. Cautiously feeling their way along its ledge they
sought in vain for a path.
"We must hail them, Macy. There will be sure to be plenty of them who
can speak a little English and show us the way to get down."
Returning as quickly as possible to the spot immediately over the
village, the officer gave a long, loud hail.
"_Below there, you sleepers!_"
The hoarse, shrieking notes of countless thousands of roosting
sea-birds, as they rose in alarm from their perches in the forest trees,
mingled with the barking of dogs from the village, and then came a wild
cry of alarm from a human throat.
Waiting for a few moments till the clamour had somewhat subsided, the
two men again hailed in unison.
"_Below there! Awake, you sleepers!_"
Another furious outburst of yelping and barking--through which ran the
quavering of voices of the affrighted natives--smote the stillness of
the night. Then the bright light of torches of coconut leaves flashed
below, nude figures ran swiftly to and fro among the houses, and then
came a deep-voiced answering hail in English--
"_Hallo there! Who hails_?"
"Two white men," was the officer's quick reply. "We cannot get down.
Bear a hand with a torch; we have lost the track." Then as something
flashed across his mind, he added, "Who are you? Are you a white man?"
"Yes. I am Tom Ledyard."
"Thank God for that! Send a light quickly. You and your people are in
In a few minutes the waiting men saw the gleam of torches amid the trees
to their right, and presently a tall, bearded, white man appeared,
followed by half a dozen natives. All were armed with muskets, whose
barrels glinted and shone in the firelight.
Springing forward to meet him, North told his story in as few words as
Ledyard's dark face paled with passion. "By heaven, they shall get a
bloody welcome! Now, come, sir; follow me. You must need rest badly."
As they passed through the village square, now lit up by many fires and
filled with alarmed natives, Ledyard called out in his deep tones--
"Gather ye together, my friends. The son of the Slaughterer is near.
Send a man fleet of foot to Mout and bid him tell Nena, the chief, and
his head men to come to my house quickly, else in a little while our
bones will be gnawed by Charlik's dogs."
Then with North and Macy besides him, he entered his house, the largest
in the village. A woman, young, slender, and fair-skinned, met them at
the door. Behind her were some terrified native women, one of whom
carried Ledyard's youngest child in her arms.
"'Rita, my girl," said Ledyard, placing his hand on his wife's shoulder
and speaking in English, "these are friends. They have come to warn us.
That young hell-pup, Charlik, is attacking us tomorrow. But quick, girl,
get something for these gentlemen to eat and drink."
But North and the harpooner were too excited to eat, and, seated
opposite their host, they listened eagerly to him as he told them of his
plans to repel the attack; of the bitter hatred that for ten years had
existed between the people of Leasse and the old king; and then--he set
his teeth--how that Se, the friendly sister of the young king, had once
sent a secret messenger to him telling him to guard his wife well, for
her brother had made a boast that when Leasse and Mout were given to the
flames only Cerita should be spared.
"Then, ten days ago, Mr. North, thinking that this young tiger-cub
Charlik knew that these people here were well prepared to resist an
attack, I left in my cutter on a trading voyage to Ponape. Three days
out the vessel began to make water so badly that I had to beat back. I
only came ashore yesterday."
He rose and walked to and fro, muttering to himself. Then he spoke
"Mr. North, and you, my friend"--turning to Macy--"have saved me and
those I love from a sudden and cruel death. What can I do to show my
gratitude? You cannot now return to your ship; will you join your
fortunes with mine? I have long thought of leaving this island and
settling in Ponape. There is money to be made there. Join me and be my
partners. My cutter is now hauled up on the beach--if she were fit to go
to sea we could leave the island to-night. But that cannot be done. It
will take me a week to put her in proper repair--and to-morrow we must
fight for our lives."
North stretched out his hand. "Macy and I will stand by you, Ledyard. We
do not want to ever put foot again on the deck of the _Iroquois_."
The story of that day of bloodshed and horror, when Charlik and his
white allies sought to exterminate the whole community, cannot here be
told in _all_ its dreadful details. Seventy years have come and gone
since then, and there are but two or three men now living on the island
who can speak of it with knowledge as a tale of "the olden days when we
were heathens." Let the rest of the tale be told in the words of one of
those natives of Leasse, who, then a boy, fought side by side with
Ledyard, North, and Macy.
* * * * *
"The sun was going westward in the sky when the two ships rounded the
point and anchored in what you white men now call Coquille Harbour. We
of Leasse, who watched from the shore, saw six boats put off, filled
with men. There pulled inside the reef, and went to the right towards
Mout; three went to the left. Letya (Ledyard), with the two white
strangers who had come to him in the night, and two hundred of our men,
had long before gone into the mountains to await Charlik and his
fighting men, and their white friends. They--Letya and the Leasse
people--made a trap for Charlik's men in the forest. Charlik himself was
in the boats with the other white men. He wanted to see the people of
Leasse and Mout driven into the water, so that he might shoot at them
with a new rifle which Kesa or the other ship captain--I forget
which--had given to him. But he wanted most of all to get Cerita, the
wife of Letya, the white man. Only Cerita was to live. These were
Charlik's words. He did not know that her husband had returned from the
sea. Had he known that, he would not have given all his money and all
his oil to the two white captains to help him to make Leasse and Mout
desolate and give our bones to his dogs to eat.
"It was a great trap--the trap prepared by Letya; and Charlik's men and
the white men with them fell in it. They fell as a stone falls in a deep
well, and sinks and is no more seen of men.
"This was the manner of the trap: The path down the cliff was between
two high walls of rock; at the foot of the cliff was a thick clump of
high pandanus trees growing closely together. In between these trees
Letya built a high barrier of logs, encompassing the outlet of the path
to Leasse. This barrier was a half circle; the two ends touched the edge
of the cliff, and the centre was hidden among the pandanus trees. On the
top of this barrier the men of Leasse waited with loaded muskets; lower
down on the ground were others, they too had loaded muskets. On the top
of the cliff where the path led down, fifty men were hidden. They were
hidden in the thick scrub which we call _oap. Oap_ is a good thing in
which to hide from an enemy, and then spring from and slay him suddenly.
"I, who was then a boy, saw all this. I heard Letya, our white man, tell
the head of our village that Charlik's men would enter into the trap and
perish. Then kava was made, and Letya and the head men drank. Kava is
good, but rum is better to make men fight. We had no rum, but we had
great love for Letya and his wife, and his two children, and great hate
for Charlik. So we said, 'If this is death, it is death,' and every man
went to his post--some to the barrier at the foot of the cliff, and some
to the thicket of _oap_ on the summit. Cerita, the wife of Letya the
Englishman, was weeping. She was weeping because Nena, the chief of
Mout, was waiting in the house to kill her if her husband should be
slain. But she did not weep because of the fear of death; it was for her
children she wept. That is the way of women. What is the life of a child
to the life of a man?
"Nena was my father's brother. He was a brave man, but was too old to
fight, for his eyes were dimmed by many years. So he sat beside Cerita
and her two children, with a long knife in his hand and waited. He
covered his face with a mat and waited. It was right for him to do this,
for Letya was a great man; and his wife, although she was a foreigner,
was an honoured woman. Therefore though Nena might not look upon her
face at other times, he could kill her if Letya said she must die. This
was quite right and correct. A wife must be guided by her husband and do
what is right and correct, and avoid scandal.
"For many hours the women in the houses waited in silence. Then suddenly
they heard the thunder of two hundred guns, and the roaring of voices,
then more muskets. They ran out of the houses and looked up to the
cliff, and lo! the sky was bright as day, for when Charlik's people and
the white men walked into the trap in the darkness, Letya and our people
set alight great heaps of dry leaves and scrub, which were placed all
along the barrier of logs. This was done so that they could see better
to shoot. There were thirty or forty of Charlik's men killed by that
volley. The white man who was leading them was very brave; he tried to
climb over the barrier, but fell back dead, for a man named Sru thrust a
whale-lance into his heart. All this time the other white men and the
rest of Charlik's people were firing their muskets, but their bullets
only hit the heavy logs of the barrier, and Letya and our people killed
them very easily by putting their muskets through the spaces. When the
sailors saw their captain fall, they tried to run away, and the Lele
warriors ran with them. But when they reached the path which led up
between the cliff, it too was blocked, and many of them became jammed
together between the walls, and these were all killed very easily--some
with bullets, and some with big stones. Then those that were left ran
round and found inside the trap, trying to get out. They were like rats
in a cask, and our people kept killing them as they ran. Some of
them--about thirty--did climb over, but all were killed, for when they
jumped down on the other side our people were there waiting. At last
four of the sailors made a big hole by tearing out two posts, and rushed
out, followed by the Lele men. Letya was the first man to meet the
sailors, and he told them to surrender. Two of them threw down their
arms, but the other two ran at Letya, and one of them ran his cutlass
into him. It went in at the stomach, and Letya fell. We killed all these
white sailors, but some of the Lele men escaped. That was a great pity,
but then how can these things be helped?" The two strange white men who
were fighting beside Le|tya, picked him up, and they carried him into
his house. He was not dead, but he said, 'I shall soon die, take me to
my wife.' I did not go with them to the house. I went into the barrier
with the other youths to kill the wounded. It is a foolish thing not to
kill wounded men; they may get better and kill you. So we killed them.
There were fourteen white men slain in that fight beside their captain.
"Before it was daylight some of our men set out along the beach to look
for the boats. They did not want to kill any more white men, but they
did want to kill Charlik. They were very fortunate, for before they had
gone far on their way they saw three of the boats coming along close in
to the beach. So they hid behind some rocks. Charlik was in the first
boat; he was standing in the bow pointing out the way. When he came very
close they all fired together, and Charlik's life was gone. He fell dead
into the sea. Then the boats all turned seaward, and pulled hard for the
ships. Then before long, we saw the other three boats going back to the
ships; in these last were four of Charlik's men who had escaped. The
boats were quickly pulled up, and the ships sailed away, for those on
board were terrified when they heard that all the white men they had
sent to fight were dead.
"Letya did not die at once--not for two days. Cerita his wife and two
white men watched beside him all this time. Before he died he called the
head men to him, and said that he gave his small ship to the two white
men, together with many other things. All his money he gave to his wife,
and told her she must go away with the white men, who would take her
back to her own people. To the head men he gave many valuable things,
such as tierces of tobacco and barrels of powder. This was quite right
and proper, and showed he knew what was correct to do before he died. We
buried him on the little islet over there called Besi.
"The two white men and Cerita and her two children went away in the
little ship. But they did not go to Cerita's country: they remained at
Ponape, and there the tall man of the two--the officer--married Cerita.
All this we learnt a year afterwards from the captain of a whaling ship.
It was quite right and proper for Letya's widow to marry so quickly, and
to marry the man who had been a friend to her husband."
_A Hundred Fathoms Deep_
There is still a world or discovery open to the ichthyologist who, in
addition to scientific knowledge, is a lover of deep-sea fishing, has
some nerve, and is content to undergo some occasional rough experiences,
if he elects to begin his researches among the many island groups of the
North and South Pacific. I possessed, to some extent, the two latter
qualifications; the former, much to my present and lasting regret, I did
not. Nearly twenty-six years ago the vessel in which I sailed as
supercargo was wrecked on Strong's Island, the eastern outlier of the
fertile Caroline Archipelago, and for more than twelve months I devoted
the greater part of my time to traversing the mountainous island from
end to end, or, accompanied by a hardy and intelligent native, in
fishing, either in the peculiarly-formed lagoon at the south end, or two
miles or so outside the barrier reef.
The master of the vessel, I may mention, was the notorious, over
maligned, and genial Captain Bully Hayes, and from him I had learnt a
little about some of the generally unknown deep-sea fish of Polynesia
and Melanesia. He had told me that when once sailing between Aneityum
and Tanna, in the New Hebrides, shortly after a severe volcanic eruption
on the former island had been followed by a submarine convulsion, his
brig passed through many hundreds of dead and dying fish of great size,
some of which were of a character utterly unknown to any of his native
crew--men who came from all parts of the North and South Pacific. More
remarkable still, some of these fish had never before been seen by the
inhabitants of the islands near which they were found. There were, he
said, some five or six kinds, but they were all of the groper family.
One of three which was brought on board was discovered floating on the
surface when the ship was five miles off Tanna. A boat was lowered, but
on getting up to it, the crew found they were unable to lift it from the
water; it was, however, towed to the ship, hoisted on board, and cut
into three parts, the whole of which were weighed, and reached over 300
lbs. In colour it was a dull grey, with large, closely-adhering scales
about the size of a florin; the fins, tail, and lips were blue. Another
one, weighing less, had a differently-shaped head, with a curious,
pipe-like mouth; this was a uniform dull blue. A similar upturning from
the ocean's dark depths of strange fish occurred during a submarine
earthquake near Rose Island, a barren spot to the south-west of Samoa.
The disturbance threw up vast numbers of fish upon the reefs of Manua,
the nearest island of the group, and the natives looked upon their great
size and peculiar appearance with unbounded astonishment.
Without desiring to bore the reader with unnecessary details of my own
experiences in the South Seas, but because the statement bears on the
subject of this article--a subject which has been my delight since I was
a boy of ten years of age--I may say that, nine years after the loss of
Captain Hayes's vessel on Strong's Island, I was again shipwrecked on
Peru, one of the Gilbert, or, as we traders call them, the "Line"
Islands. Here I was so fortunate as to take up my residence with one of
the local traders, a Swiss named Frank Voliero, who was an ardent
deep-sea fisherman, and whose catches were the envy and wonder of the
wild and intractable natives among whom he lived; for he had excellent
tackle, which enabled him to fish at depths seldom tried by the natives,
who have no reason to go beyond sixty or eighty fathoms. In the long
interval that had elapsed since my fishing days in the Carolines and my
arrival at Peru Island, I had gained such experience in my hobby in many
other parts of the Pacific as falls to few men, and the desire to fish
in deep water, and get something that astonished the natives of the
various islands, had become a passion with me. Voliero and myself went
out together frequently, and, did space permit, I should like to
describe the fortune that attended us at Peru, as well as my fishing
adventures at Strong's Island.
In a former work I have endeavoured to describe that extraordinary
nocturnal-feeding fish, the _palu_, and the manner of its capture by
the Malayo-Polynesian islanders of the Equatorial Pacific, and in the
present article I shall try to convey to my readers an idea of deep-sea
fishing in the South Seas generally. When I was living on the little
island of Nanomaga (one of the Ellice Group, situated about 600 miles to
the north-west of Samoa), as the one resident trader, I found myself
in--if I may use the term--a marine paradise, as far as fishing went.
The natives were one and all expert fishermen, extremely jealous of
their reputation of being not only the best and most skilful men in
Polynesia in the handling of their frail canoes in a heavy surf, but
also of being deep-learned in the lore of deep-sea fishing.
My arrival at the island caused no little commotion among the young
bloods, each of whose chances of gaining the girl of his heart, and
being united to her by the local Samoan missionary teacher, depended in
a great measure upon his ability to provide sustenance for her from the
sea; for Nanomaga, like the rest of the Ellice Group, is but little more
than a richly-verdured sandbank, based upon a foundation of coral, and
yielding nothing to its people but coconuts and a coarse species of
taro, called puraka. The inhabitants, in their low-lying atolls, possess
no running streams, no fertile soil, in which, as in the mountainous
isles of Polynesia, the breadfruit, the yam, and the sweet potato grow
and flourish side by side with such rich and luscious fruits as the
orange and banana, and pineapple--they have but the beneficent coconut
and the evergiving sea to supply their needs. And the sea is kind to
them, as Nature meant it to be to her own children.
The native missionary at Nanomaga was a Samoan. He was intended by
nature to be a warrior, a leader of men; or--and no higher praise can I
give to his dauntless courage--a boat-header on a sperm whaler. Strong
of arm and quick of eye, he was the very man to either throw the harpoon
or deal the death-giving thrust or the lance to the monarch of the ocean
world; but fate or circumstance had made him a missionary instead. He
was a fairly good missionary, but a better fisherman.
Three miles from Nanomaga is a submerged reef, marked on the chart as
the Grand Coral Reef, but known to the natives as Tia Kau, "the reef."
It is in reality a vast mountain of coral, whose bases lie two hundred
fathoms deep, with a flattened summit of about fifty acres in extent,
rising to within five fathoms of the surface of the sea. This spot is
the resort of incredible numbers of fish, both deep-sea haunting and
surface swimming. Some of the latter, such as the _pala_ (not the
_palu_)--a long, scaleless, beautifully-formed fish, with a head of bony
plates and teeth like a rip-saw--are of great size, and afford splendid
sport, as they are game fighters and almost as powerful as a porpoise.
They run to over 100 lbs., and yet are by no means a coarse fish. In the
shallow water on the top of this mountain reef there are some eight or
nine varieties of rock cod, none of which were of any great size; but
far below, at a depth of from fifty to seventy fathoms, there were some
truly monstrous fish of this species, and I and my missionary friend had
the luck to catch the four largest ever taken--221 lbs., 208 lbs., 118
lbs., and 111 lbs. I had caught when fishing for schnapper, in thirty
fathoms off Camden Haven, on the coast of New South Wales, a mottled
black and grey rock cod, which weighed 83 lbs., and was assured by the
Sydney Museum authorities that such a weight for a rock cod was rare in
that part of the Pacific, but that _beche-de-mer_ fishermen on the Great
Barrier Reef had occasionally captured fish of the same variety of
double that size and weight.
Not possessing a boat, we fished from a canoe--a light, but strong and
beautifully constructed craft, with "whalebacks" fore and aft to keep it
from being swamped by seas when facing or running from a surf. The
outrigger was formed of a very light wood, called _pua_, about fourteen
inches in circumference. With the teacher and myself there usually went
with us a third man, whose duty it was to keep the canoe head to wind,
for anchoring in deep water in such a tiny craft was out of the
question, as well as dangerous, should a heavy fish or a shark get foul
of the outrigger. Capsizes in the daytime we did not mind, but at night
numbers of grey sharks were always cruising around, and they were then
especially savage and daring.
Leaving the pretty little village, which was embowered in a palm grove
on the lee side of the island, we would, if intending to fish on the Tia
Kau, make a start before dawn, remain there till the canoe was loaded to
her raised gunwale pieces with the weight of fish, and then return.
Night fishing on the Tia Kau by a single canoe was forbidden by the
_kaupule_ (head men) as being too dangerous on account of the sharks,
and so usually from ten to twenty canoes set out together. If one did
come to grief through being swamped, or capsized by having the outrigger
fouled by a shark, there was always assistance near at hand, and it
rarely happened that any of the crew were bitten. In 1872, however, a
fearful tragedy occurred on the Tia Kau, when a party of seventy
natives--men, women, and children--who were crossing to the neighbouring
Island of Nanomea, were attacked by sharks when overtaken on the reef by
a squall at night. Only two escaped to tell the tale.
If, however, we meant to try for _takuo_, a huge variety of the
mackerel-tribe, or _lahe'u_, a magnificent bream-shaped fish, we had no
need to go so far as the dangerous Tia Kau; three or four cable-lengths
from the beach, and right in front of the village, we could lie in water
as smooth as glass, and seventy fathoms in depth. Our bait was
invariably flying-fish, freshly caught, or the tentacles of an octopus.
My lines were of white American cotton, and I generally used two hooks,
one below and one above the sinker, both baited with a whole
flying-fish, while my companions preferred wooden or iron hooks, of
their own manufacture, and lines made from hibiscus bark or coconut
I shall always remember with pleasure my first _lahe'u_. I was
accompanied by the native teacher alone, and we paddled off from the
village just after evening service, and brought to about a quarter of a
mile outside the reef. The rest of the islanders had gone round in
their canoes to the weather side of the little island to fish for
_takuo_, for we were expecting a _malaga_, or party of visitors from the
Island of Nukufetau in a day or two, and unusual supplies of fish had to
be obtained, to sustain, not only the island's record as the fishing
centre of the universe, but the people's reputation for hospitality. It
had been my suggestion to the teacher that he and I, who were unable to
accompany the others, should try what we could do nearer home. The night
was brilliantly starlight, and the sea as smooth as glass--so smooth
that there was not even the faintest swell upon the reef. The trade wind
was at rest, and not the faintest breath of air moved the foliage of the
coco palms lining the white strip of beach. Now and then a splash or a
sudden commotion in the water around us would denote that some hapless
flying-fish had taken an aerial flight from a pursuing _pala_, or that a
shark had seized a turtle in his cruel jaws. Lighting our pipes, we
lowered our lines together according to island etiquette, and touched
bottom at thirty fathoms; then hauled in a fathom or two of line to
avoid fouling the coral. In a few minutes my companion hooked an _utu_,
a sluggish fish, somewhat like a salmon in appearance, with shining
silvery scales and a broad flat head. As he was hauling in, and I was
looking over the side of the canoe to watch it coming up, I felt a
sharp, heavy tug at my own line, and, before I could check it, thirty or
forty yards of line whizzed through my fingers with lightning speed.
"_Lahe'u!_" shouted the teacher, hurriedly making his own line fast,
and whipping up his paddle. "Don't give out any more line or he will run
under the reef, and we shall lose him."
I knew by the vibration and hum of the line as soon as I had it well in
hand that there was a heavy and powerful fish at the end. Ioane,
disregarding the _utu_ as being of no importance in comparison to a
_lahe'u_, was plunging his paddle rapidly into the water, and
endeavouring to back the canoe seaward into deeper water, but, in spite
of his efforts and my own, we were being taken quickly inshore. For some
two or three minutes the canoe was dragged steadily landward, and I knew
that once the _lahe'u_ succeeded in getting underneath the overhanging
ledge of reef, there would be but little chance of our taking him except
by diving, and diving on a moonless night under a reef, and freeing a
fish from jagged branches of coral, is not a pleasant task, although an
Ellice Islander does not much mind it. Finding that I could not possibly
turn the fish, I asked Ioane what I should do. He told me to let go a
few fathoms of line, brace my knee against the thwart, and then trust to
the sudden jerk to cant the fish's head one way or the other. I did as I
was told. Out flew the line, and then came a shock that made the canoe
fairly jump, lifted the outrigger clear out of the water, and all but
capsized her. But the ruse was successful, for, with a furious shake,
_lahe'u_ changed his course, and started off at a tremendous rate,
parallel with the reef, and then gradually headed seaward.
"Let him go," said Ioane, who was carefully watching the tautened-out
line, and steering at the same time. "'Tis a strong fish, but he is _man
tonu_ (truly hooked), and will now tire. But give him no more line, and
haul up to him."
For fully five minutes the canoe went flying over the water, and I
continued to haul in line fathom by fathom, until I caught sight of,
deep down in the water right ahead, a great phosphorescent boil and
bubble. Then the pace began to slacken, as the gallant fighter began to
turn from side to side, shaking his head and making futile breaks from
port to starboard. Bidding me come amidships with the line, Ioane took
in his paddle, and picked up the harpoon which we always carried on the
outrigger platform in case of meeting a turtle. Nearer and nearer came
the great fish, till, with a splash of phosphorescent light and spray,
he came to the surface, beating the water with his forked and bony tail,
and still trying to get a chance for another downward run. Then Ioane,
waiting his opportunity, sent the iron clean through him from side to
side, and I sat down and watched, with a thrill of satisfaction and a
sigh of relief, his final flurry. In a few minutes we hauled him
alongside, drew the harpoon, and with some difficulty managed to get him
over the side and lower him into the bottom of the canoe amidships,
where he lay fore and aft, his curved back standing up nearly a foot and
a half above the raised gunwale. Although not above four feet in length,
he was nearly three in depth, and about sixteen inches thick at the
shoulder--a truly noble fish.
"We have done well," said the teacher, with a pleased laugh, as he
hauled in his own line and dropped a 6-lb. _utu_ into the canoe. "There
will be much talk over this to-morrow, for these people here are very
conceited, and think that no one but themselves can catch _lahe'u_ and
_pala_. They will know better now, when they see this one."
We returned to the shore within two hours from the time we left, with my
_lahe'u_, an _utu_, and five or six salmon-like fish called _tau-tau_,
all nocturnal feeders, and all highly thought of by the natives,
especially the latter. The _lahe'u_ we hung up under the missionary's
verandah, and at daylight I had the intense satisfaction of seeing a
crowd of natives surrounding it, and of hearing their flattering
allusions to myself as a _papalagi masani tonu futi ika_--a white man
who really could fish like a native.
_On a Tidal River_
The English visitor to the Eastern Colonies of Australia who is in
search of sport with either rod or hand line can always obtain excellent
fishing in the summer months even in such traffic-disturbed harbours as
Sydney, Newcastle, and other ports; but on the tidal rivers of the
eastern and southern seaboard he can, every day, catch more fish than he
can carry during seven months of the year. In the true winter months
deep sea fishing is not much favoured, except during the prevalence of
westerly winds, when, for days at a time, the Pacific is as smooth as a
lake; but in the rivers, from Mallacoota Inlet, which is a few miles
over the Victorian boundary, to the Tweed River on the north of New
South Wales, the stranger may fairly revel not only in the delights of
splendid fishing but in the charms of beautiful scenery. He needs no
guide, will be put to but little expense, for the country hotel
accommodation is good and cheap; and, should he visit some of the
northern rivers where the towns, or rather small settlements, are few
and far between, he will find the settlers the embodiment of British
Some three years ago the writer formed one of the crew of a little
steamer of fifty tons named the _Jenny Lind_, which was sent out along
the coast in the endeavour to revive the coast whaling industry. Through
stress of weather we had frequently to make a dash for shelter, towing
our sole whaleboat, to one of the many tidal rivers on the coast between
Sydney and Gabo Island. Here we would remain until the weather broke,
and our crew would literally cover the deck with an extraordinary
variety of fish in the course of a few hours. Then, at low tide, we
could always fill a couple of cornsacks with excellent oysters, and get
bucketfuls of large prawns by means of a scoop net improvised from a
piece of mosquito netting; game, too, was very plentiful on the lagoons.
The settlers were generally glad to see us, and gave us so freely of
milk, butter, pumpkins, &c., that, despite the rough handling we always
got at sea from the weather, we grew quite fat. But as the greater part
of my fishing experience was gained on the northern rivers of the colony
of N.S. Wales it is of them I shall write.
Eighteen hours' run by steamer from Sydney is the Hastings River, on the
southern bank of which, a mile from the bar, is the old-time town of
Port Macquarie, a quaint, sleepy little place of six hundred
inhabitants, who spend their days in fishing and sleeping and waiting
for better times. There are two or three fairly good hotels, very pretty
scenery along the coast and up the river, and a stranger can pass a
month without suffering from ennui--that is, of course, if he be fond
of fishing and shooting; if he is not he should avoid going there, for
it is the dullest coast town in New South Wales. The southern shore,
from the steamer wharf to opposite the bar, is lined with a hard beach,
on which at high tide, or slack water at low tide, one may sit down in
comfort and have great sport with bream, whiting, and flathead. As soon
as the tide turns, however, and is well on the ebb or flow, further
fishing is impossible, for the river rushes out to sea with great
velocity, and the incoming tide is almost as swift. On the other side of
the harbour is a long, sandy point, called the North Shore, about a mile
in length. This, at the north end, is met by a somewhat dense scrub,
which lines the right bank of the river for a couple of miles, and
affords a splendid shade to any one fishing on the river bank. The outer
or ocean beach is but a few minutes' walk from the river, and a
magnificent beach it is, trending in one great unbroken curve to Point
Plomer, seven miles from the township.
Before ascending the river on a fishing trip one has to provide one's
self with a plentiful supply of cockles, or "pippies," as they are
called locally. These can only be obtained on the northern ocean beach,
and not the least enjoyable part of a day's sport consists in getting
them. They are triangular in shape, with smooth shells of every
imaginable colour, though a rich purple is commonest. As the back wash
leaves the sands bare these bivalves may be seen in thick but irregular
patches protruding from the sand. Sometimes, if the tide is not low
enough, one may get rolled over by the surf if he happen to have his
back turned seaward. Generally I was accompanied by two boys, known as
"Condon's Twins." They were my landlord's sons, and certainly two of the
smartest young sportsmen--although only twelve years old--ever met with.
Both were very small for their age, and I was always in doubt as to
which was which. They were always delighted to come with me, and did not
mind being soused by a roller now and then when filling my "pippy" bag.
Pippies are the best bait one can have for whiting (except prawns) in
Australia, for, unlike the English whiting, it will not touch fish bait
of any sort, although, when very hungry, it will sometimes take to
octopus flesh. Bream (whether black or silvery), flathead, trevally,
jew-fish, and, indeed, all other fish obtained in Australia, are not so
dainty, for, although they like "pippies" and prawns best, they will
take raw meat, fish, or octopus bait with readiness. Certain species of
sea and river mullet are like them in this respect, and good sport may
be had from them with a rod in the hot months, as Dick and Fred, the
twins aforesaid, well knew, for often would their irate father
wrathfully ask them why they wasted their time catching "them worthless
But let me give an idea of one of many days' fishing on the Hastings,
spent with the "Twins." Having filled a sugar bag with "pippies" on the
ocean beach, we put on our boots and make our way through the belt of
scrub to where our boat is lying, tied to the protruding roots of a
tree. Each of us is armed with a green stick, and we pick our way pretty
carefully, for black snakes are plentiful, and to tread on one may mean
death. The density of the foliage overhead is such that but little
sunlight can pierce through it, and the ground is soft to our feet with
the thick carpet of fallen leaves beneath. No sound but the murmuring of
the sea and the hoarse notes of countless gulls breaks the silence, for
this side of the river is uninhabited, and its solitude disturbed only
by some settler who has ridden down the coast to look for straying
cattle, or by a fishing party from the town. Our boat, which we had
hauled up and then tied to the tree, is now afloat, for the tide has
risen, and the long stretches of yellow sandbanks which line the channel
on the farther side are covered now with a foot of water. As we drift up
the river, eating our lunch, and letting the boat take care of herself,
a huge, misshapen thing comes round a low point, emitting horrid
groanings and wheezings. It is a steam stern-wheel punt, loaded with
mighty logs of black-butt and tallow wood, from fifty feet to seventy
feet in length, cut far up the Hastings and the Maria and Wilson Rivers,
and destined for the sawmill at Port Macquarie.
In another hour we are at our landing-place, a selector's abandoned
homestead, built of rough slabs, and standing about fifty yards back
from the river and the narrow line of brown, winding beach. The roof had
long since fallen in, and the fences and outbuildings lay low, covered
with vines and creepers. The intense solitude of the place, the
motionless forest of lofty grey-boled swamp gums that encompassed it on
all sides but one, and the wide stretch of river before it were
calculated to inspire melancholy in any one but an ardent fisherman.
Scarcely have we hauled our boat up on the sand, and deposited our
provisions and water in the roofless house, when we hear a commotion in
the river--a swarm of fish called "tailer" are making havoc among a
"school" of small mullet, many of which fling themselves out upon the
sand. Presently all is quiet again, and we get our lines ready.
For whiting and silvery bream rather fine lines are used, but we each
have a heavy line for flathead, for these fish are caught in the tidal
rivers on a sandy bottom up to three feet and four feet in length. They
are in colour, both on back and belly, much like a sole, of great width
across the shoulders, and then taper away to a very fine tail. The head
is perfectly flat, very thin, and armed on each side with very sharp
bones pointing tailward; a wound from one of these causes intense
inflammation. The fins are small--so small as to appear almost
rudimentary--yet the fish swims, or rather darts, along the bottom with
amazing rapidity. They love to lie along the banks a few feet from the
shore, where, concealed in the sand, they can dart out upon and seize
their prey in their enormous "gripsack" mouths. The approach of a boat
or a person walking along the sand will cause them to at once speed like
lightning into deep water, leaving behind them a wake of sand and mud
which is washed off their backs in their flight. Still, although not a
pleasing fish to look at, the flathead is of a delicious and delicate
flavour. There are some variations in their shades of colour, from a
pale, delicate grey to a very dark brown, according to their habitat,
and, although most frequent in very shallow water, they are often caught
in great quantities off the coast in from ten to fifteen fathoms of
water. Gut or wire snoodings are indispensable when fishing for
flathead, else the fish invariably severs the line with his fine
needle-pointed teeth, which are set very closely together. Nothing comes
amiss to them as food, but they have a great love for small mullet or
whiting, or a piece of octopus tentacle.
Baiting our heavy lines with mullet--two hooks with brass-wire snoods to
each line--we throw out about thirty yards, then, leaving two or three
fathoms loose upon the shore, we each thrust a stick firmly into the
sand, and take a turn of the line round it. As the largest flathead
invariably dart upon the bait, and then make a bolt with it, this plan
is a good one to follow, unless, of course, they are biting freely; in
that case the smaller lines for bream and whiting, &c., are hauled in,
for there is more real sport in landing an 8-lb. flathead than there is
in catching smaller fish, for he is very game, and fights fiercely for
Having disposed our big lines, we bait the smaller ones with "pippies,"
and not two minutes at the outside elapse after the sinkers have touched
bottom when we know we are to have a good time, for each of us has
hooked a fish, and three whiting are kicking on the sand before five
minutes have expired. Then for another hour we throw out and haul in
again as quickly as possible, landing whiting from 6 oz. to nearly 2
lbs. in weight. One of the "Twins" has three hooks on his line, and
occasionally lands three fish together, and now and again we get small
bream and an occasional "tailer" of 2 lbs. or 3 lbs. As the sun mounts
higher the breeze dies away, the heat becomes very great, and we have
frequent recourse to our water jar--in one case mixing it with whisky.
Then the whiting cease to bite as suddenly as they have begun, and move
off into deeper water. Just as we are debating as to whether we shall
take the boat out into mid-stream, Twin Dick gives a yell as his stick
is suddenly whipped out of the sand, and the loose line lying beside it
rushes away into the water. But Dick is an old hand, and lets his fish
have his first bolt, and then turns him. "By Jingo! sir, he's a big
fellow," he cries, as he hauls in, the line now as taut as a telegraph
wire, and then the other twin comes to his aid, and in a few minutes the
outline of the fish is seen, coming in straight ahead as quick as they
can pull him. When he is within ten feet of the beach the boys run up
the bank and land him safely, as he turns his body into a circle in his
attempts to shake out the hook. Being called upon to estimate his
weight, I give it as 11 lbs., much to the twins' sorrow--they think it
Half an hour passes, and we catch but half a dozen silvery bream and
some small baby whiting, for now the sun is beating down upon our heads,
and our naked feet begin to burn and sting, so we adjourn to the old
house and rest awhile, leaving our big lines securely tied. But, though
the breeze for which we wait comes along by two o'clock, the fish do
not, and so, after disinterring our takes from the wet sand wherein we
had buried them as caught to prevent them being spoilt by the sun, we
get aboard again and pull across to the opposite bank of the river.
Here, in much deeper water, about fifteen feet right under the clayey
bank, we can see hundreds of fine bream, and now and then some small
jew-fish. Taking off our sinkers, we have as good and more exciting
sport among the bream than we had with the whiting, catching between
four and five dozen by six o'clock. Then, after boiling the billy and
eating some fearfully tough corned meat, we get into the boat again,
hoist our sail, and land at the little township just after dark.
Such was one of many similar day's sport on the Hastings, which, with
the Bellinger, the Nambucca, the Macleay, and the Clarence, affords good
fishing practically all the year round. Then, besides these tidal
rivers, there are at frequent intervals along the coast tidal lagoons
and "blind" creeks where fish congregate in really incredible
quantities. Such places as Lake Illawarra and Lake Macquarie are fishing
resorts well known to the tourist; but along the northern coast, where
the population is scantier, and access by rail or steamer more
difficult, there is an absolutely new field open to the sportsman--in
fact, these places are seldom visited for either fishing or shooting by
people from Sydney. During November and December the bars of these
rivers are literally black with incredible numbers of coarse
sea-salmon--a fish much like the English sea-bass--which, making their
way over the bars, swim up the rivers and remain there for about a week.
Although these fish, which weigh from 6 lbs. to 10 lbs., do not take a
bait and are rather too coarse to eat, their roes are very good,
especially when smoked. They are captured with the greatest of ease,
either by spearing or by the hand; for sometimes they are in such dense
masses that they are unable to manoeuvre in small bays; and the urchins
of coastal towns hail their yearly advent with delight. They usually
make their first appearance about the second week in November, and are
always followed by a great number of very large sharks and saw-fish,
which commit dreadful havoc in their serried and helpless ranks.
Following the sea-salmon, the rivers are next visited in January by
shoals of very large sea-mullet--blue-black backs, silvery bellies and
sides, and yellow fins and tails. These, too, will not take a bait, but
are caught in nets, and, if a steamer happens to be on the eve of
leaving for Sydney, many hundreds of baskets are sent away; but they
barely pay the cost of freight and commission, I believe. There are
several varieties of sea-mullet, one or two of which will take the hook
freely, and I have often caught them off the rocky coast of New South
Wales with a rod when the sea has been smooth. The arrival of the big
sea-mullet denotes that the season for jew-fish is at its height; and if
the stranger to Australian waters wants exciting sport let him try
jew-fishing at night. In deep water off the coast these great fish are
occasionally caught during daylight, but a dull, cloudy night is best,
when they may be caught from the beach or river bank in shallow water.
Very stout lines and heavy hooks are used, for a 90-lb. or l00-lb.
jew-fish is very common. Baiting with a whole mullet or whiting, or one
of the tentacles of an octopus, the most amateurish fisherman cannot
fail to hook two or three jew-fish in a night. (Even in Sydney harbour I
have seen some very large ones caught by people fishing from ferry
wharves.) They are very powerful, and also very game, and when they rise
to the surface make a terrific splashing. At one place on the Hastings
River, called Blackman's Point, a party of four of us took thirteen
fish, the heaviest of which was 42 lbs. and the lightest 9 lbs. Next
morning, however, the Blackman's Point ferryman, who always set a line
from his punt when he turned in, showed us one of over 70 lbs. When they
grow to such a size as this they are not eaten locally, as the flesh is
very often full of thin, thread-like worms. The young fish, however, are
The saw-fish, to which I have before alluded as harrying the swarms of
sea-salmon, also make havoc with the jew-fish, and very often are caught
on jew-fish lines. They are terrible customers to get foul of (I do not
confound them with the sword-fish) when fishing from a small boat. Their
huge bone bill, set on both sides with its terrible sharp spikes, their
great length, and enormous strength, render it impossible to even get
them alongside, and there is no help for it but either to cut the line
or pull up anchor and land the creature on the shore. Even then the task
of despatching one of these fish is no child's play on a dark night, for
they lash their long tails about with such fury that a broken leg might
be the result of coming too close. In the rivers of Northern Queensland
the saw-fish attain an enormous size, and the Chinese fishermen about
Cooktown and Townsville often have their nets destroyed by a saw-fish
enfolding himself in them. Alligators, by the way, do the same thing
there, and are sometimes captured, perfectly helpless, in the folds of
the nets, in which they have rolled themselves over and over again,
tearing it beyond repair with their feet, but eventually yielding to
The schnapper, the best of all Australian fish, is too well known to
English visitors to describe in detail. Most town-bred Australians
generally regard it as a purely ocean-loving fish, or at least only
frequenting very deep waters in deep harbours, such as Sydney, Jervis
Bay, and Twofold Bay. This is quite a mistake, for in many of the
rivers, twenty or more miles up from the sea, the writer and many other
people have not only caught these beautiful fish, but seen fishermen
haul in their nets filled with them. But they seldom remain long,
preferring the blue depths of ocean to the muddy bottoms of tidal
rivers, for they are rock-haunting and surf-loving.
Of late years the northern bar harbours and rivers of New South Wales
have been visited by a fish that in my boyhood's days was unknown even
to the oldest fisherman--the bonito. Although in shape and size they
exactly resemble the ocean bonito of tropic seas, these new arrivals are
lighter in colour, with bands of marbled grey along the sides and belly.
They bite freely at a running bait--_i.e.,_ when a line is towed astern,
and are very good when eaten quite fresh, but, like all of the mackerel
tribe, rapidly deteriorate in a few hours after being caught. The
majority of the coast settlers will not eat them, being under the idea
that, as they are all but scaleless, they are "poisonous." This silly
impression also prevails with regard to many other scaleless fish on the
Australian coast, some of which, such as the trevally, are among the
best and most delicate in flavour. The black and white rock cod is also
regarded with aversion by the untutored settlers of the small coast
settlements, yet these fish are sold in Sydney, like the schnapper, at
In conclusion, let me advise any one who is contemplating a visit to
Australia, and means to devote any of his time to either river or sea
fishing, to take his rods with him; all the rest of his tackle he can
buy as cheap in the colonies as he can in England. Rods are but little
used in salt-water fishing in Australia, and are rather expensive. Those
who do use a rod are usually satisfied with a bamboo--a very good rod
it makes, too, although inconvenient to carry when travelling--but the
generality of people use hand lines. And the visitor must not be
persuaded that he can always get good fishing without going some
distance from Sydney or Melbourne. That there is some excellent sport to
be obtained in Port Jackson in summer is true, but it is lacking in a
very essential thing--the quietude that is dear to the heart of every
_Denison Gets Another Ship_
Owing to reduced circumstances, and a growing hatred of the hardships of
the sea, young Tom Denison (ex-supercargo of the South Sea Island
trading schooner _Palestine_) had sailed from Sydney to undertake the
management of an alleged duck-farm in North Queensland. The ducks, and
the vast area of desolation in which they suffered a brief existence,
were the property of a Cooktown bank, the manager of which was Denison's
brother. He was a kind-hearted man, who wanted to help Tom along in the
world, and, therefore, was grieved when at the end of three weeks the
latter came into Cooktown humping his swag, smoking a clay pipe, and
looking exceedingly tired, dirty, and disreputable generally. However,
all might have gone well even then had not Mrs. Aubrey Denison, the
brother's wife, unduly interfered and lectured Tom on his "idle and
dissolute life," as she called it, and made withering remarks about the
low tastes of sailors other than captains of mail steamers or officers
in the Navy. Tom, who intended to borrow L10 from his brother to pay his
passage back to Sydney to look for a ship, bore it all in silence, and
then said that he should like to give up the sea and become a
missionary in the South Seas, where he was "well acquainted with the
Mrs. Aubrey (who was a very refined young lady) smiled contemptuously,
and turned down the corners of her pretty little mouth in a manner that
made the unsuccessful duck-farmer boil with suppressed fury, as she
remarked that _she_ had heard of some of the shocking stories he had
been telling the accountant and cashier of the _characters_ of the
people in the South Seas, and _she_ quite understood _why_ he wished to
return there and re-associate with his vulgar and wicked companions.
Now, she added, had he stuck bravely to work with the ducks, the Bank
(she uttered the word "Bank" in the tone of reverence as one would say
"The Almighty") would have watched his career with interest, and in time
his brother would have used his influence with the General Manager to
obtain a position for him, Tom Denison, in the Bank itself! But, judging
from _her_ knowledge of his (Tom's) habits and disposition, she would be
doing wrong to hold out the slightest hope for him now, and------
"Look here, Maud, you're only twenty-two--two years older than me, and
you talk like an old grandmother;" and then his wrath overpowered his
judgment--"and you'll look like one before you're twenty-five. Don't you
lecture _me_. I'm not your husband, _thank Heaven above_! And damn the
bank and its carmine ducks." (He did not say "carmine," but I study the
proprieties, and this is not a sanguinary story.)
From the weatherboard portals of the bank Tom strode out in undisguised
anger, and obtained employment on a collier, discharging coals. Then, by
an extraordinary piece of good luck, he got a billet as proof-reader on
the North Queensland _Trumpet Call_, from which, after an exciting three
weeks, he was dismissed for "general incompetency and wilful neglect of
his duties." So with sorrow in his heart he had turned to the
ever-resourceful sea again for a living. He worked his passage down to
Sydney in an old, heart-broken, wheezing steamer named the _You Yangs_,
and stepped jauntily ashore with sixteen shillings in his pocket, some
little personal luggage rolled up in his blanket, and an unlimited
confidence in his own luck.
Two vessels were due from the South Sea Islands in about a month, and as
the skippers were both well known to and were on friendly terms with
him, he felt pretty certain of getting a berth as second mate or
supercargo on one of them. Then he went to look for a quiet lodging.
This was soon found, and then realising the fact that sixteen shillings
would not permit him viewing the sights of Sydney and calling upon the
Governor, as is the usual procedure with intellectual and dead-broke
Englishmen who come to Australia with letters of introduction from
people who are anxious to get rid of them, he tried to get temporary
employment by applying personally at the leading warehouses and
merchants' offices. The first day he failed; also the second. On the
third day the secretary of a milk company desired him to call again in
three days. He did, and was then told by the manager that he "might
have something" for him in a month or two. This annoyed Tom, as he had
put on his sole clean collar that morning to produce a good impression.
He asked the official if six months would not suit him better, as he
wanted to go away on a lengthy fishing trip with the Attorney-General.
The manager looked at him in a dignified manner, and then bade him an
A week passed. Funds were getting low. Eight shillings had been paid in
advance for his room, and he had spent five in meals. But he was not
despondent; the _Susannah Booth_, dear, comfortable old wave-puncher,
beloved of hard-up supercargoes, was due in a week, and, provided he
could inspire his landlady with confidence until then, all would be
But the day came when he had to spend his last shilling, and after a
fruitless endeavour to get a job on the wharves to drive one of the many
steam winches at work discharging cargo from the various ships, he
returned home in disgust.
That night, as he sat cogitating in his bedroom over his lucklessness,
his eye fell on a vegetable monstrosity from Queensland, presented to
him by one of the hands on board the _You Yangs_. It was a huge, dried
bean-pod, about four feet long, and contained about a dozen large black
beans, each about the size of a watch. He had seen these beans, after
the kernels were scooped out, mounted with silver, and used as
match-boxes by bushmen and other Australian gentry. It at once occurred
to him that he might sell it. Surely the thing ought to be worth at
least five shillings.
In two minutes he was out in the street, but to his disgust found most
of the shops closed, except the very small retail establishments.
Entering a little grocery store, he approached the proprietor, a man
with a pale, gargoyle-like face, and unpleasant-looking, raggedy teeth,
and showing him the bean, asked him to buy it.
The merchant looked at it with some interest and asked Tom what it was
Tom said it was a _Locomotor Ataxy_. (He didn't know what a _locomotor
ataxy_ was; but it sounded well, and was all the Latin he knew, having
heard from his mother that a dissolute brother of hers had been
afflicted with that complaint, superinduced by spirituous liquors.)
The grocer-man turned the vegetable over and over again in his hand, and
then asked the would-be vendor if he had any more. Tom said he hadn't.
The _locomotor ataxy_, he remarked, was a very rare bean, and very
valuable. But he would sell it cheap--for five shillings.
"Don't want it," said the man rudely, pushing it away contemptuously.
"It's only a faked-up thing anyway, made of paper-mashy."
Tom tried to convince him that the thing was perfectly genuine, and
actually grew on a vine in North Queensland; but the Notre Dame
gargoyle-featured person only heard him with a snort of contempt. It was
obvious he wouldn't buy it. So, sneeringly observing to the grocer that
no doubt five shillings was a large sum for a man in such a small way of
business as he was, Tom went out again into the cold world.
He tried several other places, but no one would even look at the thing.
After vainly tramping about for over two hours, he turned away towards
his lodging, feeling very dispirited, and thinking about breakfast.
Turning up a side street called Queen's Place, so as to make a short cut
home, he espied in a dimly-lighted little shop an old man and a boy
working at the cobbler trade. They had honest, intelligent faces, and
looked as if they wanted to buy a _locomotor ataxy_ very badly. He
tapped at the door and then entered.
"Would you like to buy this?" he said to the old man. He did not like to
repeat his foolish Latin nonsense, for the old fellow had such a worn,
kindly face, and his honest, searching eyes met his in such a way that
he felt ashamed to ask him to buy what could only be worthless rubbish
The cobbler looked at the monstrosity wonderingly. "'Tis a rare big
bean," he said, in the trembling quaver of old age, and with a mumbling
laugh like that of a pleased child. "I'll give you two shillin's for it.
I suppose you want money badly, or else you wouldn't be wanderin' about
at ten o'clock at night tryin' to sell it. I hope you come by it honest,
Tom satisfied him on this score, and then the ancient gave him the two
shillings. Bidding him good-night, Tom returned home and went to bed.
(Quite two years after, when Denison returned to Sydney from the South
Seas with more money "than was good for his moral welfare," as his
sister-in-law remarked, he sought out the old cobbler gentleman and
bought back his _locomotor ataxy_ bean for as many sovereigns as he had
been given shillings for it.)
Next morning he was down at the wharves before six o'clock, smoking his
pipe contentedly, after breakfasting sumptuously at a coffee-stall for
sixpence. There was a little American barque lying alongside the
Circular Quay, and some of the hands were bending on her head-sails. Tom
sat down on the wharf stringer dangling his feet and watching them
intently. Presently the mate appeared on the poop, smoking a cigar. He
looked at Tom critically for a moment or so, and then said--
"Looking for a ship, young feller?"
The moment Tom heard him speak, he jumped to his feet, for he knew the
voice, last heard when the possessor of it was mate of the island
trading schooner _Sadie Caller_, a year before in Samoa.
"Is that you, Bannister?" he cried.
"Reckon 'taint no one else, young feller. Why, Tom Denison, is it you?
Step right aboard."
Tom was on the poop in an instant, the mate coming to him with
"What's the matter, Tom? Broke?"
"Sit down here and tell me all about it. I heard you had left the
_Palestine_. Say, sling that dirty old pipe overboard, and take one of
these cigars. The skipper will be on deck presently, and the sight of it
would rile him terrible. He hez his new wife aboard, and she considers
pipes ez low-down."
Tom laughed as he thought of Mrs. Aubrey, and flung his clay over the
side. "What ship is this, Bannister?"
"The _J.W. Seaver_, of 'Frisco. We're from the Gilbert Islands with a
cargo of copra."
"Who is your supercargo?"
"Haven't got one. Can't get one here, either. Say, Tom, you're the man.
The captain will jump at getting you! Since he married he considers his
life too valuable to be trusted among natives, and funks at going ashore
and doing supercargo's work. Now you come below, and I'll rake out
enough money to get you a high-class suit of store clothes and shiny
boots. Then you come back to dinner. I'll talk to him between then and
now. He knows a lot about you. I'll tell him that since you left the
_Palestine_ you've been touring your native country to 'expand your
mind.' _She's_ Boston, as ugly as a brown stone jug, and highly
intellectual. _He's_ all right, and as good a sailor-man as ever trod a
deck, but _she's_ boss, runs the ship, and looks after the crew's
morals. Thet's why we're short-handed. But she'll take to you like
lightning--when she hears that you've been 'expanding your mind.' Buy a
second-hand copy of Longfellow's, poems, and tell her that it has been
your constant companion in all your wanderings among vicious cannibals,
and she'll just decorate your cabin like a prima-donna's boudoir, darn
your socks, and make you read some of her own poetry."
That afternoon, Mr. Thomas Denison, clean-shirted and looking eminently
respectable and prosperous, and feeling once more a man after the
degrading duck episode in North Queensland, was strolling about George
Street with Bannister, and at peace with the world and himself. For the
skipper's wife had been impressed with his intellectuality and modest
demeanour, and was already at work decorating his cabin--as Bannister
_Jack Shark's Pilot_
Early one morning as we in the _Palestine_, South Sea trading schooner,
were sailing slowly between Fotuna and Alofa--two islands lying to the
northward of Fiji--one of the native hands came aft and reported two
large sharks alongside. The mate at once dived below for his shark hook,
while I tried to find a suitable bit of beef in the harness cask. Just
as the mate appeared carrying the heavy hook and chain, our skipper, who
was lying on the skylight smoking his pipe, although half asleep,
inquired if there were "any pilot fish with the brutes."
"Yes, sir," said a sailor who was standing in the waist, looking over
the side, "there's quite a lot of 'em. I've never seen so many at one
time before. There's nigh on a dozen."
The captain was on his feet in an instant. "Don't lower that hook of
yours just yet, Porter," he said to the mate. "I'm going to get those
pilot fish first. Tom, bring me up my small fishing line."
"They won't take a hook, will they?" I inquired.
"Just you wait and see, sonny. Ever taste pilot fish?"
"No. Are they good to eat?"
"Best fish in the ocean, barring flying-fish," replied the skipper, as,
after examining his line, he cut off both hook and leaden sinker and
bent on a small-sized _pa_--a native-made bonito hook cut out from a
solid piece of pearl-shell.
Then jumping up into the whaleboat which hung in davits on the starboard
quarter he waited for the sharks to appear, and the mate and I leant
over the side and watched. We had not long to wait, for in a few minutes
one came swimming quickly up from astern, and was almost immediately
joined by the other, which had been hanging about amidships. They were
both, however, pretty deep down, and at first I could not discern any
pilot fish. The captain, however, made a cast and the hook dropped in
the water, about fifty feet in the rear of the sharks; he let it sink
for less than half a minute, and then began hauling in the line as
quickly as possible, and at the same moment I saw some of the pilot fish
quite distinctly--some swimming alongside and some just ahead of their
detestable companions, which were now right under the counter. Then
something gleamed brightly, and the shining hook appeared, for a second
or two only, for two of the "pilots" darted after it with lightning-like
rapidity, and presently one came to the surface with a splash,
beautifully hooked, and was swung up into the boat.
"Now for some fun," cried the captain, as tossing the fish to us on deck
he again lowered the hook. This time it had barely touched the surface
of the water when away went the line with a rush right under our keel.
"This is a big fellow," said the skipper, and up came another dark blue
and silver beauty about a foot in length, dropping off the hook just in
time as he was hoisted clear of the gunwale. Then, in less than ten
minutes--so eager were they to rush the hook the moment it struck the
water--five more were jumping about upon the deck or in the boat. Then
came a calamity, the eighth fish dropped off when half way up and took
the hook with him, having swallowed it and bitten through the line.
The captain jumped on deck again and began rooting out his bag for
another small-sized _pa_, but to his disgust could not find one ready
for use--none of them having the actual "hook" portion lashed to the
shank, and the operation of lashing one of these cleverly-made native
hooks takes some little time and patience, for the holes which are bored
through the base of the "hook" part in order to lash it to the shank are
very small, and only very fine and strong cord, such as banana-fibre,
can be used. However, while the irate captain was fussing over his task,
the mate and I were watching the movements of the sharks and their
little friends with the greatest interest, having promised the captain
not to lower the shark hook till he had caught the rest of the pilot
fish, for he assured us that they would most likely disappear after the
sharks were captured. (I learned from my own experience afterward that
he was mistaken, for when a shark is caught at sea his attendants will
frequently remain with the ship for weeks, or until another shark
appears, in which case they at once attach themselves to him.)
Both sharks were now swimming almost on the surface, so close to the
ship that they could have been caught in a running bowline or harpooned
with the greatest ease; and in fact our native crew, who were very
partial to shark's flesh, had both harpoon and bowline in readiness in
case the cunning brutes would not take a bait. They were both of great
size--the largest being over twelve or thirteen feet in length. With the
smaller one were three pilot fish, one swimming directly under the end
of its nose, the others just over its eyes; the larger had but one
attendant, which kept continually changing its position, sometimes being
on one side, then on another, then disappearing for a few moments
underneath the monster's belly, or pressing itself so closely against
the creature's side that it appeared as if it was adhering to it. I had
never before seen these fish at such close quarters, and their
extraordinary activity and seeming attachment to their savage companions
was most astonishing to witness; occasionally when either of the sharks
would cease moving, they would take up a position within a few inches of
its jaws, remain there a few seconds, and then swim under its belly and
reappear at the tail, then slowly make their way along its back or sides
to the hideous head again. Sometimes, either singly or all together,
they would dart away on either side, but quickly returned, never being
absent more than a minute. These brief excursions showed them to be
extremely swift, yet when they returned to their huge companions they
instantly became--at least to all appearance--intensely sluggish and
languid in their movements, and swam in an undecided, indefinite sort of
manner as if thoroughly exhausted. But this was but in appearance, for
suddenly they would again shoot away along the surface of the water with
lightning-like rapidity, disappear from view of the keenest eye, and,
ere you could count five, again be beside the vessel swimming as
leisurely, if not as lazily, as if they were incapable of quickening
Having his line ready again, the captain now began fishing from the
stern, and succeeded in catching three of the remaining four, the last
one (which our natives said was the fish which had swallowed the first
hook) refusing even to look at the tempting bit of iridescent
pearl-shell. Then the impatient mate lowered his bait over the stern,
having first passed the line outboard and given the end to three or four
of the crew, who stood in the waist ready to haul in. The smaller of the
two sharks was at once hooked, and when dragged up alongside amidships
struggled and lashed about so furiously that the big fellow came
lumbering up to see what was the matter, and Billy Rotumah, our native
boatswain, who was watching for him, promptly drove a harpoon socket
deeply into him between the shoulders; then, after some difficulty, a
couple of running bowlines settled them both in a comfortable position
to be stunned with an axe.
The schooner was at this time within a few miles of a small village on
Alofa, named Mua, and presently a boat manned by natives boarded us to
sell yams, taro, pineapples, and bananas, all of which we bought from
them in exchange for the sharks' livers and some huge pieces of flesh
weighing two or three hundred pounds. These people (who resemble the
Samoans in appearance and language) were much impressed and terrified
when they saw the pilot fish which had been caught, and told our crew
that ours would be an unlucky ship--that we had done a dangerous and
foolish thing. Their feeling on the subject was strong; for when I asked
them if they would take two or three of the fish on shore to Father
Herve, one of the French priests living on Fotuna, who was an old
friend, they started back in mingled terror and indignation, and
absolutely declined to even touch them. Taking one of the pilot fish up
I held it by the head between my forefinger and thumb and asked the
natives if they did not consider it good to look at.
"True," replied a fine, stalwart young fellow, speaking in Samoan, "it
is good to look at," and then he added gravely, "_Talofa lava ia te
outou i le vaa nei, ua lata mai ne aso malaia ma le tiga|_" ("Alas for
all you people on this ship, there is a day of disaster and sorrow near
I tried to ascertain the cause of their terror, but could only elicit
the statement that to kill a pilot fish meant direful misfortune. No
sensible man, they asserted, would do such a senseless and _saua_
(cruel) thing, and to eat one was an abomination unutterable.
As soon as our visitors had left I hurried to make a closer examination
of our prizes before the cook took possession of them. Of the eleven,
only one was over a foot in length, the rest ranged from five to ten
inches. The beautiful dark blue of the head and along the back, so
noticeable when first caught, had now lost its brilliancy, and the four
wide vertical black stripes on the sides had also become dulled,
although the silvery belly was still as bright as a new dollar. The eyes
were rather large for such a small fish, and all the fins were
blue-black, with a narrow white line running along the edges. Their
appearance even an hour after death was very handsome, and in shape they
were much like a very plump trout. In the stomachs of some we found
small flying squid, little shrimps, and other Crustacea.
Our Manila-man cook, although not a genius, certainly knew how to fry
fish, and that morning we had for breakfast some of Jack Shark's
pilots--the most delicately-flavoured deep-sea fish I have ever
tasted--except, perhaps, that wonderful and beautiful creature, the
_The "Palu" of the Equatorial Pacific_
During a residence of half a lifetime among the various island-groups of
the North-western and South Pacific, I devoted much of my spare
time--and I had plenty of it occasionally--to deep-sea fishing, my
tutors being the natives of the Caroline, Marshall, Gilbert, and Ellice
The inhabitants of the last-named cluster of islands are, as I have
said, the most skilled fishermen of all the Malayo-Polynesian peoples
with whom it has been my fortune to have come in contact. The very
poverty of their island homes--mere sandbanks covered with coconut and
pandanus palms only--drives them to the sea for their food; for the
Ellice Islanders, unlike their more fortunate prototypes who dwell in
the forest-clad, mountainous, and fertile islands of Samoa, Tahiti,
Raratonga, &c., live almost exclusively upon coconuts, the drupes of the
pandanus palm, and fish. From their very infancy they look to the sea as
the main source of their food-supply, either in the clear waters of the
lagoon, among the breaking surf on the reef, or out in the blue depths
of the ocean beyond. From morn till night the frail canoes of these
semi-nude, brown-skinned, and fearless toilers of the sea may be seen by
the voyager paddling swiftly over the rolling swell of the wide Pacific
in chase of the _bonito_, or lying motionless upon the water, miles and
miles away from the land, ground-fishing with lines a hundred fathoms
long. Then, as the sun dips, the flare of torches will be seen along the
sandy beaches as the night-seekers of flying-fish launch their canoes
and urge them through the rolling surf beyond the reef, where, for
perhaps three or four hours, they will paddle slowly to and fro, just
outside the white line of roaring breakers, and return to the shore with
their tiny craft half-filled with the most beautiful and wonderful fish
in the world. The Ellice Island method of catching flying-fish would
take too long to explain here, much as I should like to do so; my
purpose is to describe a very remarkable fish called the _palu_, in the
capture of which these people are the most skilful. The catching of
flying-fish, however, bears somewhat on the subject of this article, as
the _palu_ will not take any other bait but a flying-fish, and therefore
a supply of the former is a necessary preliminary to _palu_ fishing.
Let us imagine, then, that the bait has been secured, and that a party
of _palu_-fishers are ready to set out from the little island of
Nanomaga, the smallest but most thickly populated of the Ellice Group.
The night must be windless and moonless, the latter condition being
absolutely indispensable, although, curiously enough, the fish will
take the hook on an ordinary starlight night. Time after time have I
tried my luck with either a growing or a waning moon, much to the
amusement of the natives, and never once did I get a _palu_, although
other nocturnal-feeding fish bit freely enough.
The tackle used by the natives is made of coconut cinnet, four or
eight-stranded, of great strength, and capable of holding a fifteen-foot
shark should one of these prowlers seize the bait. The hook is made of
wood--in fact, the same as is used for shark-fishing--about one inch and
a half in diameter, fourteen inches in the shank, with a natural curve;
the barb, or rather that which answers the purpose of a barb, being
supplied by a small piece lashed horizontally across the top of the end
of the curve. These peculiar wooden hooks are _grown_; the roots of a
tree called _ngiia_, whose wood is of great toughness, are watched when
they protrude from a bank, and trained into the desired shape; specimens
of these hooks may be seen in almost any ethnographical museum. To sink
the line, coral stones of three or four pounds weight are used, attached
by a very thin piece of cinnet or bark, which, when the fish is struck,
is always broken by its struggles, and falls off, thus releasing the
line from an unnecessary weight. It is no light task hauling in a thick,
heavy line, hanging straight up and down for a length of from
seventy-five to a hundred fathoms or more!
Each canoe is manned by four men, only two of whom usually fish, the
other two, one at the bow and the other at the stern, being employed in
keeping the little craft in a stationary position with their paddles.
If, however, there is not much current all four lower their lines, one
man working his paddle with one hand so as to keep from drifting. My
usual companions were the resident native teacher and two stalwart young
natives of the island--Tulu'ao and Muli'ao; and I may here indulge in a
little vanity when I say that my success as a _palu_-fisher was regarded
as something phenomenal, only one other white man in the group, a trader
on the atoll of Funafuti, having ever caught a _palu_, or, in fact,
tried to catch one. But then I had such beautiful tackle that even the
most skilled native fisherman had no chance when competing with me. My
lines were of twenty-seven-strand white American cotton, as thick as a
small goose-quill, and easily handled, never tangling or twisting like
the native cinnet; and my hooks were the admiration and envy of all who
saw them. They were of the "flatted" Kirby type, eyed, but with a curve
in the shank, which was five inches in length, and as thick as a
lead-pencil. I had bought these in Sydney, and during the voyage down
had rigged them with snoodings of the very best seizing wire, intending
to use them for shark-fishing. I had smaller ones down to three inches,
but always preferred using the largest size, as the _palu_ has a large
mouth, and it is a difficult matter in a small canoe on a dark night to
free a hook embedded in the gullet of a fish which is awkward to handle
even when exhausted, and weighing as much as sixty or seventy pounds;
while I also knew that any unusual noise or commotion would be almost
sure to attract some of those most dangerous of all night-prowlers of
the Pacific, the deep-water blue shark.
Paddling out due westward from the lee side of the island, where the one
village is situated, we would bring-to in about seventy or eighty
fathoms. As I always used leaden sinkers, my companions invariably let
me lower first to test the depth, as with a two or three-pound lead my
comparatively thin line took but little time in running out and touching
bottom. A whole flying-fish was used for one bait by the natives, it
being tied on to the inner curve of the great wooden hook, whilst I cut
one in half, fore-and-aft, and ran my hook through it lengthwise.
The utmost silence was always observed; and even when lighting our pipes
we were always careful not to let the reflection of the flame of the
match fall upon the water, on account of the sharks, which would at once
be attracted to the canoe, and hover about until they were rewarded for
their vigilance by seizing the first _palu_ brought to the surface.
Sometimes a hungry shark will seize the outrigger in his jaws, or get
foul of it, and upset the canoe, and a capsize under such circumstances
is a serious matter indeed. For this reason the canoes are never far
apart from each other; if one should be attacked or disabled by a shark
the others at once render assistance, and the shark is usually thrust
through with a lance if he is too big to be captured and killed. All
haste is then made to get away from the spot, leaving the disturber of
the proceedings to be devoured by his companions, whom the scent of
blood soon brings upon the scene.
With ordinary luck we would get our first _palu_ within an hour of
lowering our lines. At such a great depth as eighty or ninety fathoms a
bite would scarcely be felt by one of my companions on his thick, heavy,
and clumsy line; but on mine it was very different, and there was hardly
an occasion on which I did not secure the first fish. Like most
bottom-haunting fish in very deep water the _palu_ makes but a brief
fight. If he can succeed in "getting his head," he will at once rush
into the coral forest amid which he lives, and endeavour to save himself
by jamming his body into a cleft or chasm of rock, and let the hook be
torn from his jaws, which are soft, boneless, and glutinous. Once,
however, he is dragged clear of the coral he seems to lose all heart;
and, although he makes an occasional spurt, he grows weaker and weaker
as he is dragged toward the surface, and when lifted into the canoe is
apparently lifeless, his large eyes literally standing out of his head,
and his stomach distended like a balloon. So enormous is the distention
of the bladder that sometimes it will protrude from the mouth, and then
burst with a noise like a pistol-shot! Perhaps some of my readers will
smile at this, but they could see the same thing occur with other
deep-sea fish besides the _palu_. In the Caroline and Marshall Islands
there is a species of grey groper which is caught in a depth ranging
from one hundred to one hundred and fifty fathoms; these fish, which
range up to two hundred pounds, actually burst their stomachs when
brought to the surface; for the air in the cavities of the body expands
on the removal of the great pressure which at such depths keeps it
Now as to the appearance of the _palu_. When first caught, and seen by
the light of a lantern or torch, it is a dark, silvery grey in colour,
with prickly, inverted scales--like the feathers of a French fowl of a
certain breed. The head is somewhat cod-shaped, with eyes quite as large
as a crown-piece; the teeth are many, small, and soft, and bend to a
firm pressure; and the bones in the fin and tail are so soft and
flexible that they may be bent into any shape, but when dried are of the
appearance and consistency of gelatine. The length of the largest _palu_
I have seen was five feet six inches, with a girth of about forty
inches. This one was caught in about ninety fathoms of water; and when I
opened the stomach I found it to contain five or six undigested fish,
about seven inches in length, of the groper species, and for which the
natives of the island had no name or knowledge of beyond the appellation
_ika kehe_--"unknown fish"--that is, fish which are only seen when taken
from the stomach of a deep-sea fish, or are brought to the surface or
washed ashore after some submarine disturbance.
The flesh of the _palu_ is greatly valued by the natives of the
equatorial islands of the Pacific for its medicinal qualities as a
laxative, whilst the oil with which it is permeated is much used as a
remedy for rheumatism and similar complaints. Within half an hour of its
being taken from the water the skin changes to a dead black, and the
flesh assumes the appearance of whale blubber. Generally, the fish is
cooked in the usual native ground-oven as quickly as possible, care
being taken to wrap it closely up in the broad leaves of the _puraka_
plant--a species of gigantic taro--in order that none of the oil may be
lost. Thinking that the oil, which is perfectly colourless and with
scarcely any odour, might prove of value, I once "tried out" two of the
largest fish taken, and obtained a gallon. This I sent to a firm of
drug-merchants in Sydney; but unfortunately the vessel was lost on the
The _palu_ does not seem to have a wide habitat. In the Tonga Islands it
is, I believe, very rare; and in Fiji, Samoa, and other mountainous
groups throughout Polynesia the natives appear to have no knowledge of
it, although they have a fish possessing the same peculiar
characteristics, but of a somewhat different shape. I have fished for it
without success at half a dozen places in Samoa, in New Britain, and New
Ireland. But it is generally to be found about the coasts of any of the
low-lying coral islands of the Union (or Tokelau) Group, the Ellice,
Gilbert, Marshall, and part of the Caroline archipelagoes. The Gilbert
Islanders call it _te ika ne peka_--a name that cannot well be
translated into bald English, though there is a very lucid Latin
In 1882 I took passage from the Island of Nukufetau in the Ellice Group
for the Caroline Islands. The vessel was a fine brigantine of 160 tons,
and was named the _Orwell_. She was, unfortunately, commanded by an
incompetent, obstinate, self-willed man, who, though a good seaman, had
no meteorological knowledge and succeeded in losing the ship, when lying
at anchor, on Peru Island, in the Gilbert Group, ten days after leaving
Nukufetau, simply through disregarding the local trader's advice to put
to sea. Disastrous as was the incident to me, for I lost trade goods and
personal effects to the value of over a thousand pounds, and came ashore
with what I stood in--to wit, a pyjama suit--and a bag of Chili dollars,
I had reason to afterwards congratulate myself from a fisherman's point
Living on the island was a Swiss, Frank Voliero, whom I have before
mentioned. He was an ardent deep-sea fisherman, and was on that account
highly respected by the natives, who otherwise did not care for him, as
he was of an exceedingly quarrelsome disposition. He was an expert
_palu_ man, and he and I therefore quickly made Island _bruderschaft_.
During the three months I remained on Peru we had many fishing trips,
and caught not less than fifty _palu_. The largest of these was
evidently a patriarch, for although he was in rather poor condition he
weighed 136 lbs. and was 6 feet 10 inches in length. Another, hooked at
a depth of eighty-five fathoms, was only 5 feet 2 inches, and weighed
129 lbs. Its stomach contained a small octopus with curiously stunted
tentacles, almost as thick at the tips as they were at the base, but in
all other respects similar to those found in shallow water upon the
reefs and in the lagoon.
Both Voliero and myself tried many kinds of bait for _palu,_ believing
that the native theory that the fish would only take flying-fish was
wrong. We found that on Peru, any elongated fish, such as gars, silvery
mullet, or young bonito, were acceptable, and that the tentacle of an
octopus, after the outer skin was removed, answered just as well. Yet
further southward among the Pacific Isles, flying-fish is the only bait
they will take! Evidently, therefore, the _palu_, at the great depths in
which it lives, is attracted by a brightly-hued fish whose habitat is on
the surface of the ocean. Why this is so must be decided by
ichthyologists, for there are no bright, silvery-scaled fish inhabiting
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