The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 37

Voyage from Waigiou to Ternate.

(SEPTEMBER 29 To NOVEMBER 5, 1860.)

I HAD left the old pilot at Waigiou to take care of my house and to get the prau into sailing order — to caulk her bottom, and to look after the upper works, thatch, and ringing. When I returned I found it nearly ready, and immediately began packing up and preparing for the voyage. Our mainsail had formed one side of our house, but the spanker and jib had been put away in the roof, and on opening them to see if any repairs were wanted, to our horror we found that some rats had made them their nest, and had gnawed through them in twenty places. We had therefore to buy matting and make new sails, and this delayed us till the 29th of September, when we at length left Waigiou.

It took us four days before we could get clear of the land, having to pass along narrow straits beset with reefs and shoals, and full of strong currents, so that an unfavourable wind stopped us altogether. One day, when nearly clear, a contrary tide and head wind drove us ten miles back to our anchorage of the night before. This delay made us afraid of running short of water if we should be becalmed at sea, and we therefore determined, if possible, to touch at the island where our men had been lost, and which lay directly in our proper course. The wind was, however, as usual, contrary, being S.S.W. instead of S.S.E., as it should have been at this time of the year, and all we could do was to reach the island of Gagie, where we came to an anchor by moonlight under bare volcanic hills. In the morning we tried to enter a deep bay, at the head of which some Galela fishermen told us there was water, but a head-wind prevented us. For the reward of a handkerchief, however, they took us to the place in their boat, and we filled up our jars and bamboos. We then went round to their camping-place on the north coast of the island to try and buy something to eat, but could only get smoked turtle meat as black and as hard as lumps of coal. A little further on there was a plantation belonging to Guebe people, but under the care of a Papuan slave, and the next morning we got some plantains and a few vegetables in exchange for a handkerchief and some knives. On leaving this place our anchor had got foul in some rock or sunken log in very deep water, and after many unsuccessful attempts, we were forced to cut our rattan cable and leave it behind us. We had now only one anchor left.

Starting early, on the 4th of October, the same S.S.W wind continued, and we began to fear that we should hardly clear the southern point of Gilolo. The night of the 5th was squally, with thunder, but after midnight it got tolerably fair, and we were going along with a light wind arid looking out for the coast of Gilolo, which we thought we must be nearing, when we heard a dull roaring sound, like a heavy surf, behind us. In a short time the roar increased, and we saw a white line of foam coming on, which rapidly passed us without doing any harm, as our boat rose easily over the wave. At short intervals, ten or a dozen others overtook us with bleat rapidity, and then the sea became perfectly smooth, as it was before. I concluded at once that these must be earthquake waves; and on reference to the old voyagers we find that these seas have been long subject to similar phenomena. Dampier encountered them near Mysol and New Guinea, and describes them as follows: “We found here very strange tides, that ran in streams, making a great sea, and roaring so loud that we could hear them before they came within a mile of us. The sea round about them seemed all broken, and tossed the ship so that she would not answer her helm. These ripplings commonly lasted ten or twelve minutes, and then the sea became as still and smooth as a millpond. We sounded often when in the midst of them, but found no ground, neither could we perceive that they drove us any way. We had in one night several of these tides, that came mostly from the west, and the wind being from that quarter we commonly heard them a long time before they came, and sometimes lowered our topsails, thinking it was a gust of wind. They were of great length, from north to south, but their breadth not exceeding 200 yards, and they drove a great pace. For though we had little wind to move us, yet these world soon pass away, and leave the water very smooth, and just before we encountered them we met a great swell, but it did not break.” Some time afterwards, I learnt that an earthquake had been felt on the coast of Gilolo the very day we had encountered these curious waves.

When daylight came, we saw the land of Gilolo a few miles off, but the point was unfortunately a little to windward of us. We tried to brace up all we could to round it, but as we approached the shore we got into a strong current setting northward, which carried us so rapidly with it that we found it necessary to stand off again, in order to get out of its influence. Sometimes we approached the point a little, and our hopes revived; then the wind fell, and we drifted slowly away. Night found us in nearly the same position as we had occupied in the morning, so we hung down our anchor with about fifteen fathoms of cable to prevent drifting. On the morning of the 7th we were however, a good way up the coast, and we now thought our only chance would be to got close inshore, where there might be a return current, and we could then row. The prau was heavy, and my men very poor creatures for work, so that it took us six hours to get to the edge of the reef that fringed the shore; and as the wind might at any moment blow on to it, our situation was a very dangerous one. Luckily, a short distance off there was a sandy bay, where a small stream stopped the growth of the coral; and by evening we reached this and anchored for the night. Here we found some Galela men shooting deer and pigs; but they could not or would not speak Malay, and we could get little information from them. We found out that along shore the current changed with the tide, while about a mile out it was always one way, and against us; and this gave us some hopes of getting back to the point, from which we were now distant twenty miles. Next morning we found that the Galela men had left before daylight, having perhaps some vague fear of our intentions, anal very likely taking me for a pirate. During the morning a boat passed, and the people informed us that, at a short distance further towards the point, there was a much better harbour, where there were plenty of Galela men, from whom we, might probably get some assistance.

At three in the afternoon, when the current turned, we started; but having a head-wind, made slow progress. At dusk we reached the entrance of the harbour, but an eddy and a gust of wind carried us away and out to sea. After sunset there was a land breeze, and we sailed a little to the south-east. It then became calm, and eve hung down our anchor forty fathoms, to endeavour to counteract the current; but it was of little avail, and in the morning we found ourselves a good way from shore, and just opposite our anchorage of the day before, which we again reached by hard rowing. I gave the men this day to rest and sleep; and the next day (Oct. 10th) we again started at two in the morning with a land breeze. After I had set them to their oars, and given instructions to keep close inshore, and on no account to get out to sea, I went below, being rather unwell. At daybreak I found, to my great astonishment, that we were again far off-shore, and was told that the wind had gradually turned more ahead, and had carried us out — none of them having the sense to take down the sail and row inshore, or to call me. As soon as it was daylight, we saw that we had drifted back, and were again opposite our former anchorage, and, for the third time, had to row hard to get to it. As we approached the shore, I saw that the current was favourable to us, and we continued down the coast till we were close to the entrance to the lower harbour. Just as we were congratulating ourselves on having at last reached it, a strong south-east squall carne on, blowing us back, and rendering it impossible for us to enter. Not liking the idea of again returning, I determined on trying to anchor, and succeeded in doing so, in very deep water and close to the reefs; but the prevailing winds were such that, should we not hold, we should have no difficulty in getting out to sea. By the time the squall had passed, the current had turned against us, and we expected to have to wait till four in the afternoon, when we intended to enter the harbour.

Now, however, came the climax of our troubles. The swell produced by the squall made us jerk our cable a good deal, and it suddenly snapped low down in the water. We drifted out to sea, and immediately set our mainsail, but we were now without any anchor, and in a vessel so poorly manned that it could not be rowed against the most feeble current or the slightest wind, it word be madness to approach these dangerous shores except in the most perfect calm. We had also only three days’ food left. It was therefore out of the question making any further attempts to get round the point without assistance, and I at once determined to run to the village of Gani-diluar, about ten miles further north, where we understood there was a good harbour, and where we might get provisions and a few more rowers. Hitherto winds and currents load invariably opposed our passage southward, and we might have expected them to be favourable to us now we had turned our bowsprit in an opposite direction. But it immediately fell calm, and then after a time a westerly land breeze set in, which would not serve us, and we had to row again for hours, and when night came had not reached the village. We were so fortunate, however, as to find a deep sheltered cove where the water was quite smooth, and we constructed a temporary anchor by filling a sack with stones from our ballast, which being well secured by a network of rattans held us safely during the night. The next morning my men went on shore to cut wood suitable for making fresh anchors, and about noon, the current turning in our favour, we proceeded to the village, where we found an excellent and well-protected anchorage.

On inquiry, we found that the head men resided at the other Gani on the western side of the peninsula, and it was necessary to send messengers across (about half a day’s journey) to inform them of my arrival, and to beg them to assist me. I then succeeded in buying a little sago, some dried deer-meat and cocoa-nuts, which at once relieved our immediate want of something to eat. At night we found our bag of atones still held us very well, and we slept tranquilly.

The next day (October 12th), my men set to work making anchors and oars. The native Malay anchor is ingeniously constructed of a piece of tough forked timber, the fluke being strengthened by twisted rattans binding it to the stem, while the cross-piece is formed of a long flat stone, secured in the same manner. These anchors when well made, hold exceedingly arm, and, owing to the expense of iron, are still almost universally used on board the smaller praus. In the afternoon the head men arrived, and promised me as many rowers as I could put on the prau, and also brought me a few eggs and a little rice, which were very acceptable. On the 14th there was a north wind all day, which would have been invaluable to us a few days earlier, but which was now only tantalizing. On the 16th, all being ready, we started at daybreak with two new anchors and ten rowers, who understood their work. By evening we had come more than half-way to the point, and anchored for the night in a small bay. At three the next morning I ordered the anchor up, but the rattan cable parted close to the bottom, having been chafed by rocks, and we then lost our third anchor on this unfortunate voyage. The day was calm, and by noon we passed the southern point of Gilolo, which had delayed us eleven days, whereas the whole voyage during this monsoon should not have occupied more than half that time. Having got round the point our course was exactly in the opposite direction to what it had been, and now, as usual, the wind changed accordingly, coming from the north and north-west — so that we still had to row every mile up to the village of Gani, which we did not reach till the evening of the 18th. A Bugis trader who was residing there, and the Senaji, or chief, were very kind; the former assisting me with a spare anchor and a cable, and making me a present of some vegetables, and the latter baking fresh sago cakes for my men; and giving rue a couple of fowls, a bottle of oil, and some pumpkins. As the weather was still very uncertain, I got four extra men to accompany me to Ternate, for which place we started on the afternoon of the 20th.

We had to keep rowing all night, the land breezes being too weak to enable us to sail against the current. During the afternoon of the 21st we had an hour’s fair wind, which soon changed into a heavy squall with rain, and my clumsy men let the mainsail get taken aback and nearly upset us, tearing the sail; and, what was worse, losing an hour’s fair wind. The night was calm, and we made little progress.

On the 22d we had light head-winds. A little before noon we passed, with the assistance of our oars, the Paciencia Straits, the narrowest part of the channel between Batchian and Gilolo. These were well named by the early Portuguese navigators, as the currents are very strong, and there are so many eddies, that even with a fair wind vessels are often quite unable to pass through them. In the afternoon a strong north wind (dead ahead) obliged us to anchor twice. At nigh it was calm, and we crept along slowly with our oars.

On the 23d we still had the wind ahead, or calms. We then crossed over again to the mainland of Gilolo by the advice of our Gani men, who knew the coast well. Just as we got across we had another northerly squall with rain, and had to anchor on the edge of a coral reef for the night. I called up my men about three on the morning of the 24th, but there was no wind to help us, and we rowed along slowly. At daybreak there was a fair breeze from the south, but it lasted only an hour. All the rest of the day we had nothing but calms, light winds ahead, and squalls, and made very little progress.

On the 25th we drifted out to the middle of the channel, but made no progress onward. In the afternoon we sailed and rowed to the south end of Kaióa, and by midnight reached the village. I determined to stay here a few days to rest and recruit, and in hopes of getting better weather. I bought some onions and other vegetables, and plenty of eggs, and my men baked fresh sago cakes. I went daily to my old hunting-ground in search of insects, but with very poor success. It was now wet, squally weather, and there appeared a stagnation of insect life. We Staved five days, during which time twelve persons died in the village, mostly from simple intermittent fever, of the treatment of which the natives are quite ignorant. During the whole of this voyage I had suffered greatly from sunburnt lips, owing to having exposed myself on deck all day to loon after our safety among the shoals and reefs near Waigiou. The salt in the air so affected them that they would not heal, but became excessively painful, and bled at the slightest touch, and for a long time it was with great difficulty I could eat at all, being obliged to open my mouth very wide, and put in each mouthful with the greatest caution. I kept them constantly covered with ointment, which was itself very disagreeable, and they caused me almost constant pain for more than a month, as they did not get well till I had returned to Ternate, and was able to remain a week indoors.

A boat which left for Ternate, the day after we arrived, was obliged to return the next day, on account of bad weather. On the 31st we went out to the anchorage at the mouth of the harbour, so as to be ready to start at the first favourable opportunity.

On the 1st of November I called up my men at one in the morning, and we started with the tide in our favour. Hitherto it had usually been calm at night, but on this occasion we had a strong westerly squall with rain, which turned our prau broadside, and obliged us to anchor. When it had passed we went on rowing all night, but the wind ahead counteracted the current in our favour, and we advanced but little. Soon after sunrise the wind became stronger and more adverse, and as we had a dangerous lee-shore which we could not clear, we had to put about and get an offing to the W.S.W. This series of contrary winds and bad weather ever since we started, not having had a single day of fair wind, was very remarkable. My men firmly believed there was something unlucky in the boat, and told me I ought to have had a certain ceremony gone through before starting, consisting of boring a hole in the bottom and pouring some kind of holy oil through it. It must be remembered that this was the season of the south-east monsoon, and yet we had not had even half a day’s south-east wind since we left Waigiou. Contrary winds, squalls, and currents drifted us about the rest of the day at their pleasure. The night was equally squally and changeable, and kept us hard at work taking in and making sail, and rowing in the intervals.

Sunrise on the 2d found us in the middle of the ten-mile channel between Kaióa and Makian. Squalls and showers succeeded each other during the morning. At noon there was a dead calm, after which a light westerly breeze enabled us to reach a village on Makian in the evening. Here I bought some pumelos (Citrus decumana), kanary-nuts, and coffee, and let my men have a night’s sleep.

The morning of the 3d was fine, and we rowed slowly along the coast of Makian. The captain of a small prau at anchor, seeing me on deck and guessing who I was, made signals for us to stop, and brought me a letter from Charles Allen, who informed me he had been at Ternate twenty days, and was anxiously waiting my arrival. This was good news, as I was equally anxious about him, and it cheered up my spirits. A light southerly wind now sprung up, and we thought we were going to have fine weather. It soon changed, however, to its old quarter, the west; dense clouds gathered over the sky, and in less than half an hour we had the severest squall we had experienced during our whole voyage. Luckily we got our great mainsail down in time, or the consequences might have been serious. It was a regular little hurricane, and my old Bugis steersman began shouting out to “Allah! il Allah!” to preserve us. We could only keep up our jib, which was almost blown to rags, but by careful handling it kept us before the wind, and the prau behaved very well. Our small boat (purchased at Gani) was towing astern, and soon got full of water, so that it broke away and we saw no more of it. In about an hour the fury of the wind abated a little, and in two more we were able to hoist our mainsail, reefed and half-mast high. Towards evening it cleared up and fell calm, and the sea, which had been rather high, soon went down. Not being much of a seaman myself I had been considerably alarmed, and even the old steersman assured me he had never been in a worse squall all his life. He was now more than ever confirmed in his opinion of the unluckiness of the boat, and in the efficiency of the holy oil which all Bugis praus had poured through their bottoms. As it was, he imputed our safety and the quick termination of the squall entirely to his own prayers, saying with a laugh, “Yes, that’s the way we always do on board our praus; when things are at the worst we stand up and shout out our prayers as loud as we can, and then Tuwan Allah helps us.”

After this it took us two days more to reach Ternate, having our usual calms, squalls, and head-winds to the very last; and once having to return back to our anchorage owing to violent gusts of wind just as we were close to the town. Looking at my whole voyage in this vessel from the time when I left Goram in May, it will appear that rely experiences of travel in a native prau have not been encouraging. My first crew ran away; two men were lost for a month on a desert island; we were ten times aground on coral reefs; we lost four anchors; the sails were devoured by rats; the small boat was lost astern; we were thirty-eight days on the voyage home, which should not have taken twelve; we were many times short of food and water; we had no compass-lamp, owing to there not being a drop of oil in Waigiou when we left; and to crown all, during the whole of our voyages from Goram by Ceram to Waigiou, and from Waigiou to Ternate, occupying in all seventy-eight days, or only twelve days short of three months (all in what was supposed to be the favourable season), we had not one single day of fair wind. We were always close braced up, always struggling against wind, tide, and leeway, and in a vessel that would scarcely sail nearer than eight points from the wind. Every seaman will admit that my first voyage in my own boat was a most unlucky one.

Charles Allen had obtained a tolerable collection of birds and insects at Mysol, but far less than be would have done if I had not been so unfortunate as to miss visiting him. After waiting another week or two till he was nearly starved, he returned to Wahai in Ceram, and heard, much to his surprise, that I had left a fortnight before. He was delayed there more than a month before he could get back to the north side of Mysol, which he found a much better locality, but it was not yet the season for the Paradise Birds; and before he had obtained more than a few of the common sort, the last prau was ready to leave for Ternate, and he was obliged to take the opportunity, as he expected I would be waiting there for him.

This concludes the record of my wanderings. I next went to Timor, and afterwards to Bourn, Java, and Sumatra, which places have already been described. Charles Allen made a voyage to New Guinea, a short account of which will be given in my next chapter on the Birds of Paradise. On his return he went to the Sula Islands, and made a very interesting collection which served to determine the limits of the zoological group of Celebes, as already explained in my chapter on the natural history of that island. His next journey was to Flores and Solor, where he obtained some valuable materials, which I have used in my chapter on the natural history of the Timor group. He afterwards went to Coti on the east coast of Borneo, from which place I was very anxious to obtain collections, as it is a quite new locality as far as possible from Sarawak, and I had heard very good accounts of it. On his return thence to Sourabaya in Java, he was to have gone to the entirely unknown Sumba or Sandal-wood Island. Most unfortunately, however, he was seized with a terrible fever on his arrival at Coti, and, after lying there some weeks, was taken to Singapore in a very bad condition, where he arrived after I had left for England. When he recovered he obtained employment in Singapore, and I lost his services as a collector.

The three concluding chapters of my work will treat of the birds of Paradise, the Natural History of the Papuan (stands, and the Races of Man in the Malay Archipelago.

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