Forbes, Litton, Two Years in Fiji, London, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1875. Pp. 222-248.
Rotumah is a small island, lying in mid-ocean, about four hundred miles north of Fiji. Having no chronometer on board, we had to trust for our longitude to what sailors call the 'dead reckoning;' but this mode of reckoning is of little use amid constant changes of winds and currents. On the third day the captain thought we must be near the island, and just as the sun was touching the horizon the mate was confident that he saw land. Others held the appearance to be only a cloud, and as no one could agree, the ship was 'laid to' for the night under easy sail, and all hands went to sleep. Next morning we looked in vain for the phantom of the night before, and, loath to abandon hope, we even sailed resolutely in the direction where we had seen it for three hours. At last we were obliged to return to our former course to which we held all that day and the next. Still Rotumah was nowhere to be seen. It was now feared that we had overshot the mark, for the sun not having been visible for two days, we did not exactly know where we were. The weather, too, looked threatening enough. Heavy rollers came toppling in from the east, while the wind at one moment would fall calm, and at the next blow in such furious gusts that we were obliged to lower all sail, and to watch the little craft very narrowly. But just as everyone on board had made up his mind for an uncomfortable night, the mist lifted, and Rotumah was seen broad on the lee, not five miles distant. We shook a reef out of the mainsail, and before evening were at anchor opposite a native town, and within a hundred yards of a sandy beach covered almost to the water's edge with most luxuriant vegetation.
By sunrise next morning I was ashore, enjoying the novelty of the scenery. Rotumah is a small island, some nine miles by seven, but is a perfect gem of beauty and fertility. It is covered by groves of cocoa-nut trees, in addition to which every tropical plant known in Fiji flourishes in abundance. My first care on landing was to become acquainted with any white men who might be residing on the island. The first I met was an old man of the name of Bill R---. He had called in at Rotumah originally on a whaling voyage, and had remained on the island more than forty years. He was a member of that large family of stray whites already noticed, who are to be found more or less scattered over all the Pacific archipelagoes. These men belong to a bygone age, and are themselves passing rapidly away; the means of communication are increasing every year throughout the Southern Ocean, and very soon there will be few places in the world that answer to the peculiar requirements of such persons. In fact, work in some shape or other is becoming a universal necessity, and soon the genus 'loafer' will scarcely find a suitable habitation on the globe. Like pirates, buccaneers, Spanish galleons, and sailors' pigtails, he will become a thing of history, to be spoken of, indeed, and wondered at, but never to be met with. Old Bill had settled on Rotumah when he was about twenty years of age. At that time there were over seventy whites on the island, all, with scarcely an exception, runaway convicts from van Diemen's Land and Botany Bay, establishments then in full activity. One of these men had managed to extemporise a rough still, and the daily occupation of himself and fellows was distilling 'grog' from the shoots of the cocoa-nut trees. As might be imagined, these lawless men, freed from every restraint and inflamed by drink, abandoned themselves to every excess, scaring even the savage natives by the wildness of their orgies. Desperate conflicts with each other, and with the natives. gradually thinned their numbers, and old Bill assured me that of all the seventy men were on the island when he first landed, there was not one who escaped a violent death. What a strange life this old fellow must have led, severed for so many years from the outer world, and mewed up in a small island with such desperate company! The blandishments of native beauties prevailed in his case over all weightier considerations, and though offered from time to time a passage in some passing whaler or ship-of-war, he could never bring himself to quit the island. At length he found himself the sole survivor of a bygone generation; and, moreover, surrounded by new men with whom, from his previous course of life, he could have but little sympathy. Against missionaries in general, and 'native teachers' in particular, he was possessed with the most hostile feelings, which he never took the slightest trouble to conceal; he was a 'thorn in the flesh' to more than one reverend gentleman, and an object of terror to many a Fijian and Tongan preacher. As might be supposed, Bill had a good deal of influence with the natives, and generally acted as the go-between in all dealings between ship-captains and the islanders. He could procure either seamen, or labourers, or provisions, or firewood, as the case might be, better than any other man in Rotumah. If allowed to have his own price he would see that no one else cheated you, and most shipmasters were glad enough to agree to his terms, and thus prevent further misfortunes. In his old age Bill had taken to purchasing cocoa-nut oil, and had amassed a good deal of money in this way, though what use his wealth could be in such a place no one, probably not even himself, could tell.
The natives of Rotumah are a genial and kindly set of people, the men handsome and courteous the women pretty, graceful, and retiring. As a rule, although they are not so handsome as the Samoans, nor so dignified as the Tongans, yet some of the prettiest women south of the Equator may perhaps be found in Rotumah. Like many other South Sea Islanders, they plaster their heads with quicklime; and, strange as it may seem, this fashion is, in some cases at any rate, far from unbecoming. One pretty girl I saw thus coiffered, looked for all the world like a court beauty of the days of Madame de Maintenon. Many of them stain their hands and skin with tumeric, a monstrous and unbecoming fashion, which yet in Rotumah finds favour with the other sex. The men of Rotumah make good sailors, and after a few years' service in sea-going vessels are worth the same wages as white men. Scarcely a man on the island but has been more or less of a traveller. It is no rare thing to find men who have visited Harve, or New York, or Calcutta, men who can discuss the relative merits of a sailors' home in London or Liverpool, and dilate on the advantages of steam over sailing vessels. Thus the average native of Rotumah is more than usually capable and intelligent. Of late years the wealth of the little community has largely increased, and the price of every kind of provisions has become so high that whalers have almost ceased to visit the island. We had no difficulty, however, in procuring plenty of fowls, pigs, yams, and cocoa-nuts at a moderate price, though not so cheaply as among the savages of the New Hebrides or Admiralty Islands. As regards the domestic life of the natives, it resembles very much that of the Fijians and other South Sea Islanders. The climate requires few clothes, and calls for little work from those who are lazily inclined. The houses are small, dark, and dirty, built of leaves, and thatched with reeds; the sides are of cocoa-nut leaves, tied loosely on to posts, so that the whole side of a house can be removed at a moment's notice without damage to the general structure. As a rule, during the day, one or more sides of the house are thus taken down, to admit light and air, and are replaced in the evening.
Among the industries of Rotumah, there is only one of any particular interest, namely, mat-making. A Rotumah mat is valued in other islands much as an Indian Shawl is valued in Europe. Compared to Rotumah mats, the finest Batique mats from Fiji are coarse and ugly; while the mats of Samoa and Tonga do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. A good Rotumah mat will take many years to make, and will cost at least five pounds of our money. To an Englishman's eye, there is nothing in them of such surpassing excellence. I, however, brought two of them back with me to Fiji; and, on showing them to the Queen of Cakadrovi, she expressed such admiration, and begged so earnestly to have them, that I could not refuse her, particularly as friends at home would probably only have recognised in them a strong likeness to bass-matting, somewhat finer than that which gardeners use. The staple product of Rotumah, from a commercial point of view, is cocoa-nut oil. Like wool in Australia, or cotton in Fiji, it constitutes the wealth of the country. The mode of its preparation is simple enough. The natives gather the cocoa-nuts at the stage of their growth when all the so-called milk has been absorbed, and when the fleshy portion of the nut is thickest. They then break off the shell, and leave the kernel to putrefy in the sun. After a certain time the oil drains from the nut, and is collected in suitable vessels. Meanwhile, the process is extremely disagreeable to all not pecuniarily interested in the matter. The air round each primitive oil-press becomes laden with a pestilential smell, while the ground becomes covered with broken shells and decaying husks to an extent that makes walking almost impossible.
As the vessel was to stay but a short time at Rotumah, I took up my quarters on shore. Among other excursions, I made one to an extinct volcano which exists in the centre of the island, and to which Rotumah probably owes its existence. The path to this ancient crater lies through a dense forest, rich with all the wealth of the tropics. This portion of the island is not less fertile than the most fertile parts of Taveuni, while it surpasses most portions of Fiji as much as Fiji surpasses New Caledonia or Queensland. The predominant tree is the cocoa-nut; but trees and plants of many other species grow so luxuriantly that the traveller walks in twilight beneath their shade. Two chiefs accompanied me, and acted the part of guides. One had formerly been king of the island, until Christianity created a political as well as a religious revolution, had displaced many of the old ruling families. The other chief was a man not less remarkable for mental power than physical strength. He had played a great part in a war which had lately resulted in the triumph of his party, and had throughout shown himself to be a brave and able general. He was a veritable Falconbridge in the 'huge composition' of his chest and brawny limbs. As he toiled up the steep, carrying a basket of provisions that would have been a load for two ordinary men, he might have served for a model of Samson bearing away the gates of Gaza. An old white man was also of the company, who, though weighted by a burden of threescore years, yet carried them bravely. He had become a settler in Rotumah by what might fairly have been called a series of accidents. He had been wrecked, in the first instance, on the island when a youth, and been taken off by a passing vessel only to be wrecked some years afterwards in almost the same spot. He had escaped once more, but was left a third time on shore by a rascally captain; and before escape was again possible, so long a time had elapsed that he did not care to leave the island.
After gazing down the ancient crater, whose fires had long been extinct, we descended a cave that penetrated for an unknown distance underground; some said even under the sea. This cave evidently owed its existence to some convulsion at a time when the island was an active volcano, and also bore traces of having once formed the bed of a stream. After descending along it for about a quarter of a mile, the air became as hot and oppressive as in the Great Pyramid, and we were forced to return. After all, there was not much to see, though it would have been difficult to have imagined a better hiding-place for a body of men, or a more typical robbers' cave. From this cave to the highest peak in the island was not a great distance. Apart from the view to be obtained from the summit, this hill was interesting for another reason. It was holy ground, having been for ages past the burying-place of the great hereditary chiefs of the island. Its top was covered with stones, each stone marking the resting-place of some departed sage or warrior. The air was here so cool and fresh that we would gladly have lingered longer, but the sun was already low, and many miles of forest still lay between us and the sea coast. Looking, therefore, for the last time at the old moss-grown tombstones, we prepared to descend the mountain. We had not proceeded far, however, before the two chiefs called a halt, and invited us to share a feast which had been prepared in their honour. Deep in the recesses of that forest there still lived two families, the sole survivors of an inland tribe that once formed the chief population of the island. The present inhabitants of Rotumah live entirely on a small strip of alluvial land lying between the central volcano and the sea. But there was a time when such was not the case. The interior of the country was at some period inhabited by tribes between whom and the coast natives there had existed one long feud. This had at length resulted in a permanent separation between the two sections of the population, namely, between the dwellers inland and the dwellers on the coast. This separation produced in time divergences in language and modes of thought, so that the dialect of one tribe became unintelligible to the other. The sole representatives of the inland inhabitants of former days were the two families whom we were now visiting. Their numbers were too few to justify any general conclusions regarding the race they belonged to. They seemed, however, decidedly inferior to the coast natives of the present day in physique and intelligence. It occurred to me that these people might be a remnant of an earlier migration to the island, and that on arrival of the present inhabitants they had been driven to seek shelter in the mountains and forests, much as the Britons sought shelter in the fastnesses of Wales on the approach of the English. A study of their language would have tended to throw some light on this point, but in their present moribund condition it is not likely that any enquiry could be made conclusive. There can, however, be no doubt that at one time Rotumah supported a much larger population than at present. Tradition leads us to believe as much, while an examination of the island proves it. In all directions through the forest there are traces of large clearings. Flat stones arranged in a peculiar manner mark the sites of ancient houses and temples. Stone fences and walls, now meaningless, served at one time to divide the lands of one family from those of another. These remains point to some great changes having taken place in the population of the island. The population has decreased; but this decrease is not peculiar to Rotumah, for it is noticeable more or less throughout Eastern Polynesia. It is an ethnological fact of some importance, and seems to point to the conclusion that this particular subdivision of the human race is doomed to extinction. The distinction between coast tribes and inland tribes was probably at one time universal throughout the larger groups of the Pacific. Now, except in a few instances, it does not exist. A good example of it may still, however, be observed in Fiji, in the island of Viti Levu, where the mountaineers (Kai Colos) differ from the coast tribes of the present day in language, religion, and polity. Between these two tribal divisions an irregular warfare has been maintained from time immemorial, but there can be no doubt that both are descended from the same stock.
Having spoken about the people of Rotumah it would be ungrateful to suffer their hospitality to pass unnoticed. It was for the chiefs, indeed, that most of the good things had been prepared, but we white men came in for our share. The feast resembled in many points the one which Tiu Cakou had given at Wairiki. A large pig, heavy enough to try the strength of a strong native, had been baked in the oven, and was brought in whole. Taro, yams, and bananas were eaten with it. All the food was served on broad leaves instead of plates, and in the absence of knives or forks we fell back on fingers. A lump of rock salt was placed on the floor. This the natives would not touch, but anyone who liked was at liberty to chip a piece off for his own use. Besides all these, there was given us a peculiar sauce or condiment not met with out of Rotumah, though there its use is very extensive. It is prepared from young cocoa-nuts, by filling them with salt water, carefully sealing them up and then burying them in the ground for several weeks. Here they undergo a kind of fermentation, and when first opened emit an intolerable smell. Their taste, however, is by no means bad, resembling somewhat that of anchovies, and forming an excellent relish to the generally insipid fish or other food of the South Sea Islands. With a draught of the juice of young cocoa-nuts, the repast came to an end. Many persons in Englsnd derive their notions of a cocoa-nut from those which are sold in London or elsewhere. But in countries where cocoa-nuts grow, such old ones would be considered worthless, except for making oil or feeding animals. A young nut contains very little of the white 'flesh,' the shell is thin and comparatively soft, while the interior is filled with a subacid juice more resembling water than milk. A nut of average size contains about half a pint of liquid, which, mixed with some gin or other spirit, makes a very refreshing drink in hot weather. After the cocoa-nuts came the unfailing kava bowl, with the usual operations of chewing, straining, and handing round. By the time this was ended the sun had set, and we made our way back through the forest by moonlight as best we could.
During my time in Rotumah I lost no opportunity of visiting any sick person whom I could find. One day Alberti, the principal chief of the island, sent for me, and invited me to come and live in his palace. It was not, indeed, a very palatial residence, although it was one of the best houses in the island. Alberti, it so happened, suffered from a surgical disease which had long baffled the skill of native doctors, but which required for its cure nothing beyond a very simple operation. He was, however, very nervous, and had promised the most liberal rewards to anyone who could cure him. To such a man, if he could meet with him, he would make over a corner of the island, many hundreds of acres in extent, a house or two, the labour of a certain number of men annually to gather cocoa-nuts and make oil, and finally a town to provide him with food--offers as liberal as those of the Persian monarch to Themistocles. But better than everything else, he promised to give the successful man the hand of his sister in marriage, and so make him equal in rank to the highest chiefs in the island. Such offers were not to be lightly rejected. After a good deal of hesitation, Alberti submitted to the necessary treatment, and in a few days was cured. He proved as good as his word, for his first act was to fulfil his previous promises. He granted me the land and houses, and could not but be pleased at the extent and beauty of the gift so far. At to the lady, I had not yet seen her, for she was in a distant part of the island.
By the successful treatment of the chief my name soon got bruited about Rotumah, and I was well-nigh overwhelmed by the numbers of those who flocked to consult me. In order to put a stop to this I exacted some payment from each individual, and consented to receive yams, taro, fowls, mats, bread-fruit, cocoa-nuts, or indeed anything else they chose to offer. Alberti himself took me under his special protection, made me live with him, and was never tired of hearing about England, Austrailia, and other distant countries. In a word, he presented that rarest of phenomena--a grateful patient. The moon was just at this time at its full, and the pleasantest part of the whole day in Rotumah was from sunset until the moon went down. There happened fortunately to be a concertina on board the ship, and this was brought ashore every evening by one of the sailors. First of all, the white men would dance a hornpipe, or 'breakdown,' then the natives would dance their own dances to their own wild music. Sometimes both parties would take hands and dance together, and then assuredly the measure would be one of the strangest ever stepped by sane people. When all had wearied of dancing, the girls would prepare kava, with which to refresh their partners. This they made so strong that some one or more imprudent sailors were generally overpowered and unable to get up from the ground. This was considered very amusing by all exxcept the victims, whose brains were quite clear although their muscles were paralysed. These evening parties on the bright coral sand, beneath the pale light of a glorious moon, were indeed delightful. Everyone was in the highest spirits, and due restraints were present to check the general mirth. It was under these conditions that I first had the supreme pleasure of meeting my promised bride. A bevy of laughing girls presented her to me, all coyness and modesty, and the frequent blushes mantled her cheeks as she greeted me after the manner of her country. She was some sixteen years of age, brunette of course, and decidedly pretty. Her hair was braided with hybiscus flowers, while round her waist she had twined a girdle of some graceful plant like ivy. Her cheeks were unhappily dyed in one or two places with tumeric, but even this hideous fashion could not destroy her native beauty. Her dress was a mat of island workmanship, and hung as gracefully round her as the drapery of a Greek statue. Altogether, Alberti's sister was a very charming and piquante little creature, and from all accounts quite as well behaved as she was good-looking. It was difficult to resist the conclusion that it would be much nicer to remain among these kind folks than to go to sea in the uncomfortable little craft that was pitching and rolling in full view of the spot where we sat. And what, after all, was to be gained by tempting the hardship and dangers of the deep once more? By a freak of fortune, I had come into possession of all that might be looked on as a necessary basis of material happiness--a homestead and a position of independence, coupled with youth, health, and a fine climate; and, moreover, as if this was not enough, I had the offer of that which Bernadin de St. Pierre says is indespensable to happiness--a good wife.
I had brought a few letters of introduction from Fiji, and among others one to the Roman Catholic priests who were conducting a mission at Rotumah. Their success on this island had to all appearance been considerable, and they seemed to have accomplished a good deal in the way of civilising and instructing the natives. Both of them were men who had had experience in mission-work in other parts of the Pacific, and hence had brought some special qualifications to bear on their task.
As usual with French missionaries, they had bullt their own house, made their own furniture, and were diligent workers with their hands as well as with their heads. From them the native converts received instruction in the useful arts of civilisation, and as an ignorant layman I could not but think that such was a far better way of educating the native mind than by merely cramming it with dogmatic theology. I spent many hours with these priests, and was struck by their earnestness and single-heartedness. Among such men the chivalry of the great missionaries of old is not yet dead. A lofty purpose carried out without flinching, a life-sacrifice offered without misgivings or regrets, a courage undaunted by difliculties or dangers, an enthusiasm that never waxes cold, are qualities that command respect wherever met with. For my own part, though opposed to their tenets, and doubtful of the ultimate value of their work, I cannot but admire the consistent and manly bearing of these soldiers of the cross, who confront heathenism and savagery, well knowing that their campaign can cease only with their lives. For them there are no domestic ties to soothe care or alleviate toil, no 'retiring allowance' to gladden their declining years, no 'fat offerings' to make their lives as luxurious as those of the natives who surround them. In their camp the stern discipline of active warfare is ever present, and they themselves are but the rank and file of that highly organised army whose skill and disciplined valour has so often proved a match for the best statesmanship of Europe. Before leaving the French mission, I was introduced to the chief of the 'Catholic party;' for society in Rotumah is split up into as many 'sets' as in Guernsey or the Isle of Man. He was a handsome gentleman-like young fellow, and spoke French remarkably well. He had gained his courteous bearing and polished manner in the school of the Vatican, and his French during a five years' residence at St. Omer and Paris. I conversed with him for some time, and was astonished at his general intelligence and knowledge of the world, though, as might be supposed, he saw everything through the glasses of his spiritual advisers. The Rev. J. Nettleton speaks of him as 'a young native who has been to Rome and seen the Pope. To the conduct of a Rotumah heathen he adds the politeness of a Frenchman.' Which is the gravest crime in the eyes of the reverend gentleman, whether to have seen the Pope or to have the politeness of a Frenchman, it might be difficult to say. It is satisfactory, however, to know that most of the Wesleyan converts in Fiji and Rotumah are free alike from both these crimes or errors, more especially from the latter of the two.
It would not be fair to dismiss the subject without some reference to the Wesleyan mission, established in Rotumah, which has apparently been attended with a large share of success. The gentlemen who conduct it deserve credit for energy and perseverance, and for that skilful organisation which is found wherever Wesleyan enterprise has penetrated. Churches have been built, schools established, teachers imported from Tonga and Fiji, subscription lists opened amongst the natives, and in fact the whole misionary machinery fairly put in motion. Whether all this will ultimately increase the well-being of the people of Rotumah may reasonably be doubted. So far it certainly has not. As already stated, a Roman Catholic mission had been established on the island for some time. It was scarcely to be supposed, however much it might have been desired, that these tvo sections of Christians should work together amicably. The old contests of the League were after a time renewed on a smaller scale and a narrower field; and the two bodies of professing Christians, in their hatred to one another soon forgot their common hatred to heathenism and savagery. The newly-made converts on both sides were inflamed with an excess of religious zeal, and desired nothing better than an opportunity of showing how sincere their repentance and subsequent had been. The enthusiasm of the teachers spread itself among the disciples, and unfortunately were held in check by no previous mental or moral training. Society in Rotumah soon became thoroughly unsettled. Two great factions came into being to the island, the Catholic and the Protestant. There was yet a third faction which was still powerful, and counted among its supporters many of the leading families of the island, namely, the heathen faction. A pretext was now only required for a religious war, and this pretext was soon found.
The first open rupture which occurred related to the payment of taxes. The king of the island was still a heathen, and, as is the rule in primitive states of society, was both king and priest. He united in his person the highest civil and religious offices, and received equally the revenues of the kingdom and the offerings of the faithful. But now a knotty question arose as to whether a Christian convert should pay tribute to a heathen ruler. There was indeed a precedent for paying to Caesar the things which were Caesar's; but in this case apparently it was not held to be applicable. So far as I could learn on the spot, though I only give the information as I received it, and do not express any opinion as to its correctness or otherwise, the Wesleyans were the first to resist payment. The priests on their side recommened payment of the secular taxes, but in the same breath urged their converts to abstain from those heathen dances, feasts, sacrifices, and other abominations which concluded the annual ceremony. The Protestant minister advised the non-payment of any taxes whatever, for Christians, he argued, should have nothing, not even taxes, in common with heathens. When the king learned that his secular authority was about to be disputed he at once prepared to enforce it. This was the signal for a civil war, which was in reality a religious war, as everyone felt. It was prosecuted on both sides with a bitterness and cruelty beyond what was customary even in savage warfare. A great battle was at length imminent. Each party prepared to do its utmost, and religious fanaticism inflamed men already sufficiently brave to the highest pitch of frenzy. In the camp of the Protestant Dissenters, as in that of Cromwell before Naseby, nothing was heard save the solemn chanting of hymns and penitential psalms mingled with the fervid oratory of local preachers from Fiji and Tonga. In the Catholic camp the sacrament was administered to every warrior, while the banner that was to be borne aloft that day was honoured with the special blessing of the Church. The battle was fought with determination on both sides; but the event was not long doubtful. The Wesleyans inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined forces of the heathens and Catholics. Then followed the usual period of wild excess. Chapels were demolished, lands laid waste, houses burned down, and the population of a whole district forcibly removed away. The priests' vestments were found and torn to pieces, and the fragments scattered over the island. The strong-box that contained the sacred oil, the vessels, the relics, and other valuables was broken open, and its contents set up as targets for the rifles by these fierce iconoclasts. At the time of my visit to the island the Catholic and heathen natives were reduced to great straits. They had been compelled to quit one portion of the island altogether, and had been deprived of their houses and stores of food. The position of the victors is, naturally, much better than before the war. Every native who had heretofore wavered in his religious belief at once declared for Protestantism. Arguments and proofs that had heretofore failed to convince became at once irresistible. Converts crowded round the Fijian preachers, had returned. A great revival of religion had apparently taken place, compared to which the remarkable revival witnessed in the French Court towards the close of the reign of Louis XIV was nothing. The missionary reports are naturally full of these glad tidings, which at length reach the sacred precints of Exeter Hall. To many, however, who were on the spot, the day of this great victory seemed a gloomy and disastrous one in the annals of Protestant missions.
With Alberti I fought the battle over again. His generalship had contributed much to the victory, and he showed me the various strategical points he had gained or defended on the eventful day. Along what had been the line of combat we passed several newly- made graves. Here had been laid many of the brave men who had died in defence of what they had held to be a righteous cause. One of these lowly graves was better tended than the others, and was decked with fresh flowers every day by the widow of the slain warrior. Gazing on these sad monuments of civil strife, one could not but regret that the introduction of Christianity should have brought about such untoward results. It seemed a hollow mockery that in this island, so small, so secluded, hitherto so peaceful, the tidings of good will to men should have been heralded by the crack of the rifle and the wail of widows and orphans. It would surely have been better that one party of Christians should have retired before the other rather than that the cause of Christ should have fallen into disrepute. Intelligent natives themselves told me that the island was in a far happier and better state before the rival missionaries settled in it. Looking round on the bare and blackened walls of many a homestead and on those newly-made graves, I could not but come to the same conclusion.
This religious war was one of the few topics on which Alberti and I could not agree, so we mutually allowed it to drop. The good fellowship still continued between the sailors and natives, though the moon now rose so late that the time for dancing was scarcely long enough. I had made up my mind to accept Alberti's offers, and remain for a time at any rate on the island and try the life. Such, however, was not to be. One morning, while the captain and most of the crew were on shore enjoying a bowl of kava, a native rushed into the house in great excitement to say that the vessel 'had gone away.' The news made everyone start to his feet, and in a few moments we were all on the beach. The vessel had indeed broken adrift from her anchor, and was going sideways out to sea. The two men on board were trying to make sail, but meanwhile seemed in imminent danger of drifting down upon a reef to leeward. A tropical squall had sprung up and had brought with it a 'chopping sea, which had snapped the cable, already half rusted through. Had the wind not been off shore nothingcould have saved the vessel. As it was a boat was soon launched, and, after many tears and adieus from Alberti, I jumped in, intending to return as soon as the vessel was safe. But scarcely were we outside of the shelter of the little bay when we found that a gale was blowing, against which our united efforts would not have moved the boat. All were glad to get on board the cutter, and, with three reefs in the mainsail and a storm-jib, we found it blowing quite hard enough. The most unpleasant part of the whole adventure was that both anchors had been lost, and consequently it became necessary to bear up for Fiji instead of completing the voyage. This was to me a most unexpected conclusion, and I begged to be put on shore again at Rotumah. But the captain was inexorable; and, indeed, with the wind and sea both rapidly rising, the further the vessel was kept off the island for safety the better. Soon, one by one, the familiar features of the landscape faded from the view. By sunset we were a good ten miles away from the land, and next morning the island was out of sight; nor have I ever again had an opportunity of seeing it or any of its kind-hearted and hospitable inhabitants.
As the vessel in which I had visited Rotumah had made the voyage with the object of procuring labourers, it became an important question for the owners how many she had brought back. The answer was four; and for this the voyage had lasted some six weeks. These four men had been procured just in the same manner in which nine-tenth of all labourers imported into Fiji have been procured, namely, fairly and honestly. As some misapprehension prevails in England as regards the labour-trade of Fiji generally, I shall make no apology for narrating exactly what I was myself witness to.
Immediately on arrival at the island the master of the vessel lost no time in communicating with the chief. He wanted, he said, so many young fellows to work in Fiji for a term of four years; their work was to be in boats and on a cotton plantation; they were to be fed and housed; and at the end of their term might either remain in Fiji or have a free passage back to Rotumah.
To facilitate matters the chief of the district and Old Bill were sent for on board. Various articles of trade were shown to the islanders, such as hatchets, knives, cloth, rifles, jew's- harps, and such like. In return for a certain quantity of these the chief promised to use his influence with the young men of the place to induce them to emigrate, or at any rate not to hinder them from doing so if they chose. The captain himself went on shore and invited the natives to visit the vessel and judge for themselves. This they did, but out of seven who promised to go with him to Fiji three subsequently refused, stating that the vessel was too small. Eventually four signed an agreement for four years, much in the same way that sailors sign 'articles' before proceeding on a voyage. There was neither deception nor coercion in the matter. Any attempt at such would have been most impolitic, besides being quite useless. An interpreter had been employed, and the conditions of the contract were thoroughly explained to the natives. As well as I remember they were to receive at the rate of about six pounds sterling a year for their work, besides board and lodging. Such will not appear bad pay to those who know the wages that an English agricultural lad can earn, and these natives were mere boys. On asking the father of one of them why he sent his son away he answered me much as an English parent might have done--it was for the boy's own good. He was desirous that he should see the world, and have better opportunities for improvement and education than a small isolated place like Rotumah could afford. And therefore he sent him to Fiji, justly arguing that there the boy could not help coming into contact with white civilisation, and could not but derive benefit from the comparative enlightenment by which he would be surrounded. As to the boys themselves they were delighted to get away. A new world was about to be opened to them and a career in life. Although they shed a few natural tears at first, no sooner was their sea-sickness over than they worked on board with a will. On landing at Wairiki they were at once taken possession of by them, and comfortably housed, clothed, and fed. If such be slavery, I could point to many a poor white man who would not object to being a slave. This is, I believe, a fair sample of what the Fijian labour-trade is at its best.