The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 35

Voyage from Ceram to Waigiou.

(JUNE AND JULY 1860.)

IN my twenty-fifth chapter I have described my arrival at Wahai, on my way to Mysol and Waigiou, islands which belong to the Papuan district, and the account of which naturally follows after that of my visit to the mainland of New Guinea. I now take up my narrative at my departure from Wahai, with the intention of carrying various necessary stores to my assistant, Mr. Allen, at Silinta, in Mysol, and then continuing my journey to Waigiou. It will be remembered that I was travelling in a small prau, which I had purchased and fitted up in Goram, and that, having been deserted by my crew on the coast of Ceram, I had obtained four men at Wahai, who, with my Amboynese hunter, constituted my crew.

Between Ceram and Mysol there are sixty miles of open sea, and along this wide channel the east monsoon blows strongly; so that with native praus, which will not lay up to the wind, it requires some care in crossing. In order to give ourselves sufficient leeway, we sailed back from Wahai eastward, along the coast of Ceram, with the land-breeze; but in the morning (June 18th) had not gone nearly so far as I expected. My pilot, an old and experienced sailor, named Gurulampoko, assured me there was a current setting to the eastward, and that we could easily lay across to Silinta, in Mysol. As we got out from the land the wind increased, and there was a considerable sea, which made my short little vessel plunge and roll about violently. By sunset — we had not got halfway across, but could see Mysol distinctly. All night we went along uneasily, and at daybreak, on looking out anxiously, I found that we had fallen much to the westward during the night, owing, no doubt, to the pilot being sleepy and not keeping the boat sufficiently close to the wind. We could see the mountains distinctly, but it was clear we should not reach Silinta, and should have some difficulty in getting to the extreme westward point of the island. The sea was now very boisterous, and our prau was continually beaten to leeward by the waves, and after another weary day we found w e could not get to Mysol at all, but might perhaps reach the island called Pulo Kanary, about ten miles to the north-west. Thence we might await a favourable wind to reach Waigamma, on the north side of the island, and visit Allen by means of a small boat.

About nine o’clock at night, greatly to my satisfaction, we got under the lea of this island, into quite smooth water — for I had been very sick and uncomfortable, and had eaten scarcely anything since the preceding morning. We were slowly nearing the shore, which the smooth dark water told us we could safely approach; and were congratulating ourselves on soon being at anchor, with the prospect of hot coffee, a good supper, and a sound sleep, when the wind completely dropped, and we had to get out the oars to row. We were not more than two hundred yards from the shore, when I noticed that we seemed to get no nearer although the men were rowing hard, but drifted to the westward, and the prau would not obey the helm, but continually fell off, and gave us much trouble to bring her up again. Soon a laud ripple of water told us we were seized by one of those treacherous currents which so frequently frustrate all the efforts of the voyager in these seas; the men threw down the oars in despair, and in a few minutes we drifted to leeward of the island fairly out to sea again, and lost our last chance of ever reaching Mysol! Hoisting our jib, we lay to, and in the morning found ourselves only a few miles from the island, but wit, such a steady wind blowing from its direction as to render it impossible for us to get back to it.

We now made sail to the northward, hoping soon to get a more southerly wind. Towards noon the sea was much smoother, and with a S.S.E. wind we were laying in the direction of Salwatty, which I hoped to reach, as I could there easily get a boat to take provisions and stores to my companion in Mysol. This wind did not, however, last long, but died away into a calm; and a light west wind springing up, with a dark bank of clouds, again gave us hopes of reaching Mysol. We were soon, however, again disappointed. The E.S.E. wind began to blow again with violence, and continued all night in irregular gusts, and with a short cross sea tossed us about unmercifully, and so continually took our sails aback, that we were at length forced to run before it with our jib only, to escape being swamped by our heavy mainsail. After another miserable and anxious night, we found that we had drifted westward of the island of Poppa, and the wind being again a little southerly, we made all sail in order to reach it. This we did not succeed in doing, passing to the north-west, when the wind again blew hard from the E.S.E., and our last hope of finding a refuge till better weather was frustrated. This was a very serious matter to me, as I could not tell how Charles Allen might act, if, after waiting in vain for me, he should return to Wahai, and find that I had left there long before, and had not since been heard of. Such an event as our missing an island forty miles long would hardly occur to him, and he would conclude either that our boat had foundered, or that my crew had murdered me and run away with her. However, as it was physically impossible now for me to reach him, the only thing to be done was to make the best of my way to Waigiou, and trust to our meeting some traders, who might convey to him the news of my safety.

Finding on my map a group of three small islands, twenty-five miles north of Poppa, I resolved, if possible, to rest there a day or two. We could lay our boat’s head N.E. by N.; but a heavy sea from the eastward so continually beat us off our course, and we made so much leeway, that I found it would be as much as we could do to reach them. It was a delicate point to keep our head in the best direction, neither so close to the wind as to stop our way, or so free as to carry us too far to leeward. I continually directed the steersman myself, and by incessant vigilance succeeded, just at sunset, in bringing our boat to an anchor under the lee of the southern point of one of the islands. The anchorage was, however, by no means good, there being a fringing coral reef, dry at low water, beyond which, on a bottom strewn with masses of coral, we were obliged to anchor. We had now been incessantly tossing about for four days in our small undecked boat, with constant disappointments and anxiety, and it was a great comfort to have a night of quiet and comparative safety. My old pilot had never left the helm for more than an hour at a time, when one of the others would relieve him for a little sleep; so I determined the next morning to look out for a secure and convenient harbour, and rest on shore for a day.

In the morning, finding it would be necessary for us to get round a rocky point, I wanted my men to go on shore and cut jungle-rope, by which to secure us from being again drafted away, as the wind was directly off shore. I unfortunately, however, allowed myself to be overruled by the pilot and crew, who all declared that it was the easiest thing possible, and that they would row the boat round the point in a few minutes. They accordingly got up the anchor, set the jib, and began rowing; but, just as I had feared, we drifted rapidly off shore, and had to drop anchor again in deeper water, and much farther off. The two best men, a Papuan and a Malay now swam on shore, each carrying a hatchet, and went into the jungle to seek creepers for rope. After about an hour our anchor loosed hold, and began to drag. This alarmed me greatly, and we let go our spare anchor, and, by running out all our cable, appeared tolerably secure again. We were now most anxious for the return of the men, and were going to fire our muskets to recall them, when we observed them on the beach, some way off, and almost immediately our anchors again slipped, and we drifted slowly away into deep water. We instantly seized the oars, but found we could not counteract the wind and current, and our frantic cries to the men were not heard till we had got a long way off; as they seemed to be hunting for shell-fish on the beach. Very soon, however, they stared at us, and in a few minutes seemed to comprehend their situation; for they rushed down into the water, as if to swim off, but again returned on shore, as if afraid to make the attempt. We had drawn up our anchors at first not to check our rowing; but now, finding we could do nothing, we let them both hang down by the full length of the cables. This stopped our way very much, and we drifted from shore very slowly, and hoped the men would hastily form a raft, or cut down a soft-wood tree, and paddle out, to us, as we were still not more than a third of a mile from shore. They seemed, however, to have half lost their senses, gesticulating wildly to us, running along the beach, then going unto the forest; and just when we thought they had prepared some mode of making an attempt to reach us, we saw the smoke of a fire they had made to cook their shell-fish! They had evidently given up all idea of coming after us, and we were obliged to look to our own position.

We were now about a mile from shore, and midway between two of the islands, but we were slowly drifting out, to sea to the westward, and our only chance of yet saving the men was to reach the opposite shore. We therefore sot our jib and rowed hard; but the wind failed, and we drifted out so rapidly that we had some difficulty in reaching the extreme westerly point of the island. Our only sailor left, then swam ashore with a rope, and helped to tow us round the point into a tolerably safe and secure anchorage, well sheltered from the wind, but exposed to a little swell which jerked our anchor and made us rather uneasy. We were now in a sad plight, having lost our two best men, and being doubtful if we had strength left to hoist our mainsail. We had only two days’ water on board, and the small, rocky, volcanic island did not promise us much chance of finding any. The conduct of the men on shore was such as to render it doubtful if they would make any serious attempt to reach us, though they might easily do so, having two good choppers, with which in a day they could male a small outrigger raft on which they could safely cross the two miles of smooth sea with the wind right aft, if they started from the east end of the island, so as to allow for the current. I could only hope they would be sensible enough to make the attempt, and determined to stay as long as I could to give them the chance.

We passed an anxious night, fearful of again breaking our anchor or rattan cable. In the morning (23d), finding all secure, I waded on shore with my two men, leaving the old steersman and the cook on board, with a loaded musketto recall us if needed. We first walked along the beach, till stopped by the vertical cliffs at the east end of the island, finding a place where meat had been smoked, a turtle-shell still greasy, and some cut wood, the leaves of which were still green, showing that some boat had been here very recently. We then entered the jungle, cutting our way up to the top of the hill, but when we got there could see nothing, owing to the thickness of the forest. Returning, we cut some bamboos, and sharpened them to dig for water in a low spot where some sago — trees were growing; when, just as we were going to begin, Hoi, the Wahai man, called out to say he had found water. It was a deep hole among the Sago trees, in stiff black clay, full of water, which was fresh, but smelt horribly from the quantity of dead leaves and sago refuse that had fallen in. Hastily concluding that it was a spring, or that the water had filtered in, we baled it all out as well as a dozen or twenty buckets of mud and rubbish, hoping by night to have a good supply of clean water. I then went on board to breakfast, leaving my two men to make a bamboo raft to carry us on shore and back without wading. I had scarcely finished when our cable broke, and we bumped against the rocks. Luckily it was smooth and calm, and no damage was done. We searched for and got up our anchor, and found teat the cable had been cut by grating all night upon the coral. Had it given way in the night, we might have drifted out to sea without our anchor, or been seriously damaged. In the evening we went to fetch water from the well, when, greatly to our dismay, we found nothing but a little liquid mud at the bottom, and it then became evident that the hole was one which had been made to collect rain water, and would never fill again as long as the present drought continued. As we did not know what we might suffer for want of water, we filled our jar with this muddy stuff so that it might settle. In the afternoon I crossed over to the other side of the island, and made a large fire, in order that our men might see we were still there.

The next day (24th) I determined to have another search for water; and when the tide was out rounded a rocky point and went to the extremity of the island without finding any sign of the smallest stream. On our way back, noticing a very small dry bed of a watercourse, I went up it to explore, although everything was so dry that my men loudly declared it was useless to expect water there; but a little way up I was rewarded by finding a few pints in a small pool. We searched higher up in every hole and channel where water marks appeared, but could find not a drop more. Sending one of my men for a large jar and teacup, we searched along the beach till we found signs of another dry watercourse, and on ascending this were so fortunate as to discover two deep sheltered rock-holes containing several gallons of water, enough to fill all our jars. When the cup came we enjoyed a good drink of the cool pure water, and before we left had carried away, I believe, every drop on the island.

In the evening a good-sized prau appeared in sight, making apparently for the island where our men were left, and we had some hopes they might be seen and picked up, but it passed along mid-channel, and did not notice the signals we tried to make. I was now, however, pretty easy as to the fate of the men. There was plenty of sago on our rocky island, and there world probably be some on the fiat one they were left on. They had choppers, and could cut down a tree and make sago, and would most likely find sufficient water by digging. Shell-fish were abundant, and they would be able to manage very well till some boat should touch there, or till I could send and fetch them. The next day we devoted to cutting wood, filling up our jars with all the water we could find, and making ready to sail in the evening. I shot a small lory closely resembling a common species at Ternate, and a glossy starling which differed from the allied birds of Ceram and Matabello. Large wood-pigeons and crows were the only other birds I saw, but I did not obtain specimens.

About eight in the evening of June 25th we started, and found that with all hands at work we could just haul up our mainsail. We had a fair wind during the night and sailed north-east, finding ourselves in the morning about twenty miles west of the extremity of Waigiou with a number of islands intervening. About ten o’clock we ran full on to a coral reef, which alarmed us a good deal, but luckily got safe off again. About two in the afternoon we reached an extensive coral reef, and were sailing close alongside of it, when the wind suddenly dropped, and we drifted on to it before we could get in our heavy mainsail, which we were obliged to let run down and fall partly overboard. We had much difficulty in getting off, but at last got into deep water again, though with reefs and islands all around us. At night we did not know what to do, as no one on board could tell where we were or what dangers might surround us, the only one of our crew who was acquainted with the coast of Waigiou having been. left on the island. We therefore took in all sail and allowed ourselves to drift, as we were some miles from the nearest land. A light breeze, however, sprang up, and about midnight we found ourselves again bumping over a coral reef. As it was very dark, and we knew nothing of our position, we could only guess how to get off again, and had there been a little more wind we might have been knocked to pieces. However, in about half an hour we did get off, and then thought it best to anchor on the edge of the reef till morning. Soon after daylight on the 7th, finding our prau had received no damage, we sailed on with uncertain winds and squalls, threading our way among islands and reefs, and guided only by a small map, which was very incorrect and quite useless, and by a general notion of the direction we ought to take. In the afternoon we found a tolerable anchorage under a small island and stayed for the night, and I shot a large fruit-pigeon new to me, which I have since named Carpophaga tumida. I also saw and shot at the rare white-headed kingfisher (Halcyon saurophaga), but did not kill it. The next morning we sailed on, and having a fair wind reached the shores of the large island of Waigiou. On rounding a point we again ran full on to a coral reef with our mainsail up, but luckily the wind had almost died away, and with a good deal of exertion we managed get safely off.

We now had to search for the narrow channel among islands, which we knew was somewhere hereabouts, and which leads to the villages on the south side ofWaigiou. Entering a deep bay which looked promising, we got to the end of it, but it was then dusk, so we anchored for the night, and having just finished all our water could cook no rice for supper. Next morning early (29th) we went on shore among the mangroves, and a little way inland found some water, which relieved our anxiety considerably, and left us free to go along the coast in search of the opening, or of some one who could direct us to it. During the three days we had now been among the reefs and islands, we had only seen a single small canoe, which had approached pretty near to us, and then, notwithstanding our signals, went off in another direction. The shores seemed all desert; not a house, or boat, or human being, or a puff of smoke was to be seen; and as we could only go on the course that the ever-changing wind would allow us (our hands being too few to row any distance), our prospects of getting to our destination seemed rather remote and precarious. Having gone to the eastward extremity of the deep bay we had entered, without finding any sign of an opening, we turned westward; and towards evening were so fortunate as to find a small village of seven miserable houses built on piles in the water. Luckily the Orang-kaya, or head man, could speak a little. Malay, and informed us that the entrance to the strait was really in the bay we had examined, but that it was not to be seen except when — close inshore. He said the strait was often very narrow, and wound among lakes and rocks and islands, and that it would take two days to reach the large village of Muka, and three more to get to Waigiou. I succeeded in hiring two men to go with us to Muka, bringing a small boat in which to return; but we had to wait a day for our guides, so I took my gun and made a little excursion info the forest. The day was wet and drizzly, and I only succeeded in shooting two small birds, but I saw the great black cockatoo, and had a glimpse of one or two Birds of Paradise, whose loud screams we had heard on first approaching the coast. Leaving the village the next morning (July 1st) with a light wind, it took us all day to reach the entrance to the channel, which resembled a small river, and was concealed by a projecting point, so that it was no wonder we did not discover it amid the dense forest vegetation which everywhere covers these islands to the water’s edge. A little way inside it becomes bounded by precipitous rocks, after winding among which for about two miles, we emerged into what seemed a lake, but which was in fact a deep gulf having a narrow entrance on the south coast. This gulf was studded along its shores with numbers of rocky islets, mostly mushroom shaped, from the ‘eater having worn away the lower part of the soluble coralline limestone, leaving them overhanging from ten to twenty feet. Every islet was covered will strange-looping shrubs and trees, and was generally crowned by lofty and elegant palms, which also studded the ridges of the mountainous shores, forming one of the most singular and picturesque landscapes I have ever seen. The current which had brought us through the narrow strait now ceased, and we were obliged to row, which with our short and heavy prau was slow work. I went on shore several times, but the rocks were so precipitous, sharp, and honeycombed, that Ifound it impossible to get through the tangled thicket with which they were everywhere clothed. It took us three days to get to the entrance of the gulf, and then the wind was such as to prevent our going any further, and we might have had to wait for days or weeps, when, much to my surprise and gratification, a boat arrived from Muka with one of the head men, who had in some mysterious manner heard I was on my way, and had come to my assistance, bringing a present of cocoa-nuts and vegetables. Being thoroughly acquainted with the coast, and having several extra men to assist us, he managed to get the prau along by rowing, poling, or sailing, and by night had brought us safely into harbour, a great relief after our tedious and unhappy voyage. We had been already eight days among the reefs and islands of Waigiou, coming a distance of about fifty miles, and it was just forty days since we had sailed from Goram.

Immediately on our arrival at Muka, I engaged a small boat and three natives to go in search of my lost men, and sent one of my own men with them to make sure of their going to the right island. In ten days they returned, but to my great regret and disappointment, without the men. The weather had been very bad, and though they had reached an island within sight of that in which the men were, they could get no further. They had waited there six days for better weather, and then, having no more provisions, and the man I had sent with them being very ill and not expected to live, they returned. As they now knew the island, I was determined they should make another trial, and (by a liberal payment of knives, handkerchiefs, and tobacco, with plenty of provisions) persuaded them to start back immediately, and make another attempt. They did not return again till the 29th of July, having stayed a few days at their own village of Bessir on the way; but this time they had succeeded and brought with them my two lost men, in tolerable health, though thin and weak. They had lived exactly a month on the island had found water, and had subsisted on the roots and tender flower-stalks of a species of Bromelia, on shell-fish. and on a few turtles’ eggs. Having swum to the island, they had only a pair of trousers and a shirt between them, but had made a hut of palm-leaves, and had altogether got on very well. They saw that I waited for them three days at the opposite island, but had been afraid to cross, lest the current should have carried them out to sea, when they would have been inevitably lost. They had felt sure I would send for them on the first opportunity, and appeared more grateful than natives usually are for my having done so; while I felt much relieved that my voyage, though sufficiently unfortunate, had not involved loss of life.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30