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2-206 (Original)

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author,male,Watson, Thomas,un addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Ingleton, 1988
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On March 31st, 1839, at daylight made the island of Timor Laut. My object in going to this island was to attempt to rescue a poor European who I was informed, had belonged to a vessel which was cut off by the natives many years ago and who was still living there. The plan which I proposed to myself in the affair was this - to get some one of their Chiefs or principal men on board, and if he says there is a white man on shore, to detain him until he is given up to us.
At 11 A.M, when about 5 or 6 miles distant from the shore, we observed three canoes under sail making for us. As they neared us we were able to make out the Dutch Colours hoisted upon each. At about 2 P.M. hove to, for the canoes to come alongside; found them to contain 12 to 15 men each. When asked if there was any white man on shore, they all answered, "Certo Engrise Louron," implying as we understood, that there was an Englishman at a village called Louron, just abreast of us.
Presently several other canoes came alongside, each containing about the same number of men. One of these brought off an Orang Kaire, who was immediately allowed to come on board. We found that be could talk a little English, which led us to hope that he would be able to give us all the information required. Our hopes in this respect were fully realised, for he told us that there was an Englishman at Louron, and was particularly solicitous for us to run into the bay and drop an anchor. Now was my time for carrying my plans into effect.
I, accordingly told the Orang Kaire that if he would bring him to me, I would give him a quantity of trade, which was shown him. To this the Orang Kaire immediately agreed, but as we had no great faith in his assertions, we thought it expedient to detain him on board until the white man was brought off. We explained to him that we wished him to send away his canoes for the Englishman, and if they did not bring him that he, the Orang Kaire would either be shot or hung by the neck to the yard arm, and that we should fire all our great guns on the village.
By this time, two other canoes had come up, but orders were given not to admit any of the people on board. It was found however, that there was another Orang Kaire, or Chief in one, and he was admitted on board. This man immediately pulled from his bosom, a small basket containing papers, which we conjectured, were letters from the Englishman on shore.
A perusal of them, however, soon convinced us of our error, for we found them to be loose scraps written evidently by some of the crew of the Charles Eaton, which was cast away in Torres Strait in 1834, and who had by some means found their way to this Island. Besides these scraps, the basket contained a letter, written by Lieut. Stanley of H.M. brig, Britomart, stating that he had called here on the 23rd. inst, and had perused the scraps, and had taken copies. [205]
As night was now quickly closing in it was thought proper to dismiss the canoes, and all the natives, except the one detained as our hostage. But on this being intimated, the Orang Kaire, who had last arrived, was anxious to remain on board all night; his wishes not being regarded, he was obliged to leave the vessel. Everyone being now in their canoes and about to push off, the Orang Kaire became apparently much disconcerted, and at last made a resolute attempt to join his companions, but was prevented by the crew, who were all under arms from our first arrival. The canoes at length, pushed off and as their distance from the vessel became greater, the stronger appeared the symptoms of disconcertion in our prisoner. He kept wandering about, to and fro, with evident impatience and apparently with a view to effect his escape by swimming, for he threw off the few garments, with which he had been covered, but a good watch being kept on him, he was unable to accomplish his object.
Through the night we stood off from the land, plying to windward, under easy sail. In the morning, we run in again, and at daylight were abreast Louron, distant about 4 miles. Not a canoe was to be seen, showing that they are not very anxious for the safety of the Orang Kaire we have on board. At 9 A.M. two canoes came alongside, one of which belonged to our prisoner; it contained about 15 men, who were very wishful to take him away, but on our positively refusing to part with him until we received the Englishman, they went to fetch him. The other canoe brought the Orang Kaire, who had shown us the letters on the night previous, and as soon as he was on board the schooner, he dismissed his canoe to assist in bringing off the white man.
There appeared to be very little doubt, that we should succeed in our purpose, and more especially when we considered we had in our power, two of their Orang Kaires, whom it was natural to imagine were more valuable than one Englishman could be. Our supposition proved correct, for about 2.30 P.M, two canoes were observed, making towards us, and in one of them, by means of a glass we were able to distinguish the features of a European, equipped as a native.
At 3 P.M. they had come alongside, and the white man, who proved to be an Englishman, although for some time one might have doubted it, was immediately received on board, in a very lame and miserable condition. During the bustle and confusion of receiving him on board, the old Orang Kaire had spied his opportunity, and without being observed had made his way over the stern into his canoe, and without waiting to receive the promised rewards, had pushed off. We could not account for his conduct, since he had been treated with every kindness and attention while on board, except on the supposition that he had been one of the principal instruments in cutting off the vessel, to which the youth had belonged, and massacring the crew, and was therefore, afraid that he should be betrayed to us, and meet with the just deserts of his atrocious deeds.
The other Orang Kaire was also evidently agitated in mind, and would gladly have retreated to his canoe, but we assured him of our friendship, and our intention to act honourably towards them, and upon this he became tranquilised, and made signs for our late prisoner to come on board again. At length, he ventured to come under the stern in his canoe. [206]
The appearance of this Englishman at the time we received him on board, was in the highest degree, remarkable, and such as was calculated to draw forth, the strongest sympathies from the bosom of any human being, whose composition was not entirely void of compassionate feelings. He appeared, as far as one can judge from his looks, as well as from the length of time he must have been upon the island, to be about 26 years of age; of a remarkably fair complexion, notwithstanding the effects of a tropical climate. There was also a delicacy of frame about him, seldom to be met with in a person of his years.
His hair, which was of a lightest yellow colour, had been allowed to grow long, and was triced up after the native custom with a comb made of Bamboo. The length of the hair was from 18 to 20 inches, and its texture very much resembled the finest silk in its raw state. His only garments were a sort of waist coat, without sleeves, and a blue and white dungaree girdle round his loins. There was a peculiar vacancy in his countenance, which I am at a loss to describe, but I can compare it to nothing more aptly than to that aspect, observable in deaf and dumb people, besides there was an expression of agony in his, which from long continued suffering no doubt, had become habitual. His body was much emaciated and covered with numberless scars, the evidence of the savage tortures he had endured; and his legs were studded with ulcers, and the sinews about his knee joints were so much contracted, as to prevent him extending his legs, and consequently, rendering him unable to walk.
His ears had been perforated after the custom of the natives, and the hole in the lobe of each, is large enough to admit of his wearing a piece of Bamboo, at least one inch in diameter; indeed, he did wear such a piece at the time he was brought off. As might have been expected from having been on the island 16 years, he had almost forgotten his native language. He could with some difficulty, make himself intelligible, and gave the following account: - His name was Joseph Forbes; he belonged to the schooner, Stedcombe, which had gone from Melville Island to Timor Laut, to procure livestock. Captain Barnes had remained at Melville Island, and had sent Mr. Bastell (mate) in charge of the schooner. The vessel being moored off the village of Louron, Mr. Bastell and the crew proceeded on shore leaving on board, the Steward, a boy named John Edwards, and himself in charge of the ship, and from some cause when they were on shore, the natives murdered them all.
As Mr. Bastell and the crew did not return, he (Forbes) took the glass, and saw the bodies stretched out on the beach, the head being severed from each. He then states, that a canoe was seen coming towards the schooner, and expecting that the natives would deal with those on board, as they had dealt with those on shore, he proposed to the steward and John Edwards to arm them selves with muskets, and to fire in case the people in the canoe attempted to board; but to this the Steward would pay no attention.
He then proposed that as he and John Edwards knew the compass, and the Steward knew little of navigation, they should punch one of the bolts out of the cable, liberate the schooner from her moorings, and stand out to sea. This was agreed to, and they were in the act of carrying it into effect, when the canoe came alongside, and the natives (among whom was the Orang Kaire, who had been our prisoner) boarded the vessel. They immediately, surrounded the Steward, and on seizing an axe lying on deck, cut off his head on the spot. two boys, expecting to share the same fate, betook themselves to the rigging, and were only induced to descend, upon repeated promises that they would not be injured. The natives then plundered the vessel of her stores, and removed them, together with the boys to the shore. After they had got everything they considered worth having, they set fire to the schooner.
From this time the two boys were kept in the capacity of ordinary slaves, until about 4 years ago, when John Edwards died, and since that time, Forbes has been unable to do any thing, owing to the state of his legs. [207] He attributed his forgetfulness of his native tongue, to the death of his companion, for he remarks that since John died, he had no one to talk to. How far he is correct as to the time when John died, I cannot say, but I may observe that his ideas of time appear to be very erroneous, for he says he has been on the island, only ten years, whereas the Stedcombe was cut off in 1823, which proves him to have been 16.
The treatment, which he received during the period of bondage appears to have been barbarous, for one of the commonest modes of punishment, when he had incurred displeasure was taking hot embers and placing them upon some part of his body, until it was severely burnt. When questioned as to the way in which different Orang Kaires behaved to him, his general answer is Trada Bergouse, implying very bad: although there are one or two to whom he applies the term, Bergouse, i.e, very good, among whom he numbers the Orang Kaire who showed us the papers and letter, and he says that it was through that person that his liberty was restored. Speaking of the Orang Kaire of Louron, he says that Louron cuts me down to the ground, which we construe to mean, that he flogged him or knocked him down. He also says he used to bind him, hand and foot, whenever a vessel hove in sight, and keep him bound so long as the vessel remained in sight.
We asked him, what he thought, when he first saw the schooner with English Colours hoisted. His answer was very simple, but at the same time very expressive.
He said, "Joe see schooner. Joe no eat. Joe's belly full."
Evidently, implying that the sight of the schooner, filled him with delight, and prevented him eating. He told us that he had a box belonging to him, which contained a quantity of clothes and money, in dollars, half-crowns, sixpences and copper pieces, but the Orang Kaire would not allow him to bring them away. Some of the crew of the Charles Eaton had been at Timor Laut, and when about to leave, had wished to take this young man with them, but the Orang Kaire would not allow his departure, and he says that it would not have been permitted with us, had they not been afraid, we should kill our prisoner, their chief.
A Chinaman, who had been trading with the island, had expressed a wish to purchase him, and had offered several gown pieces as the price, but this was declined. He relates that two Dutch men of war had been there, but would have nothing to do with him, nor assist him to escape from his miserable situation.
He gave accounts of several vessels being cut off and plundered by the natives, but he only gives a good account of two instances - one a China Junk, which they boarded, murdered the crew, plundered the vessel and burned it - the other, a schooner manned with black men, which they only plundered and liberated. He also gave some imperfect hints, that some vessel (a whaler) had been cast away 7 moons (months) ago, and that two whale boats and one jolly boat, with five people arrived at Timor Laut, which appears incredible that three boats should contain but five people. At a future time, he may give a clearer account, and I have no doubt, when he has picked up his native language, he shall be able to elicit many interesting and important facts.