Under the Southern Cross
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There are some cotton plantations on the islands conducted by American and English enterprise. Cocoanut oil and arrowroot are also exported, being gathered by enterprising foreigners who employ the natives. The group contains a little less than three thousand square miles of territory. Statistics show that even here in their comparative isolation, the native race is rapidly dying out, there being now twenty thousand less than were estimated to exist on the several islands so late as 1848, when a census was taken as correctly as was possible among a savage and superstitious people. There are not more than three hundred foreigners all told, and these consist about equally of Americans, English, and Germans.
From the seemingly careless manner of life which prevails among the native race, one would hardly infer that any fixed form of government exists among the Samoans, but the contrary is the fact. They have a paternal system of government, which is scrupulously upheld by the several tribes, all the villages being united by the same customs and language, and amenable to the same code of traditional laws. The usages and customs of the fathers have an unfailing influence over their descendants, and though free intercourse with the whites has led to the adoption of certain foreign rules and laws of trade and land-tenure, yet these are feeble in effect compared with the force of those of early, native origin.
Apia, already referred to, is the residence of the several foreign consuls. It has a small but safe harbor, and in the olden times was a famous resort for American whalers. Prominent in the picture of the town as seen from the water is a Roman Catholic cathedral of stone, with a graceful spire, behind which upon a hillside is the comfortable house of the bishop. There are a number of Catholic priests upon these islands, and we were told that near to Apia is a convent of Samoan nuns, which struck us as the height of absurdity. Upolu claims the distinction of containing the only nunnery in the South Pacific. Grog-shops have as usual followed close upon the footsteps of the missionaries, and even Apia contains six of them in full blast.
We had as fellow-passengers a family of English missionaries to land at Tutuila, who were on their return to the islands after a brief visit to their European home. This family had already lived five years among the Samoans, and were returning hither to complete their term of ten years under the direction of the London Missionary Society. Much interesting information was gathered from them concerning the manners and customs of the people of the group. As a race, it appears that they are quite distinct from other Polynesian tribes, and are far behind many of them in point of civilization. They seemed to us to be half amphibious, full of mirth and irresponsibility as we saw them in their naked simplicity, quite as much at home in the water as in their canoes. We were told that the children learned to swim before they could fairly walk, – which seemed almost incredible.They are mostly professed Christians, whatever that may signify to them, – though we very much doubt if a dozen could give the meaning of the term. One real and undoubted benefit which these missionaries impart to the natives is that they are teaching them to read, write, and speak English in regularly organized schools; so that there will be few of the rising generation who will not possess this important knowledge at least.
The health of the people on these islands is represented to be most excellent, owing to the perfection of the climate; but there is one prominent drawback to the locality in the presence and prevalence of elephantiasis among the natives, from which hideous disease the foreign residents are not exempt. It requires time to develop it in the system, and it does not attack persons until after a residence of eight or ten years. There is no known cure for the disease, unless one leaves the region where it is developed, and even then it requires a surgical operation to remove the enormous protuberance which usually forms upon the lower part of the body or the limbs. We saw some photographs taken from life of sufferers through elephantiasis, which exhibited swellings upon the limbs and body half as large as the individual's body itself. Nowhere else in the world do malformations caused by this peculiar disease assume such tremendous proportions as here in Samoa. Quinine is freely used to check the development of the affliction, as it is known to prevail most in low-lying and marshy neighborhoods; and yet what we term malaria is absolutely unknown among these islands. A German resident took passage in our ship on his way home to Berlin, who had lived some dozen years at Apia. The disease had begun its development in his ankles, one of which was swollen as large as his thigh. The local physician had advised his departure at once, and that a surgical operation should be performed in another climate. Singular to say, these protuberances can almost always be safely severed from the body by a skilful surgical operation, enormous though they be; nor are they liable to return if the patient keeps away from the climatic influences which caused them.
"The Samoans have no authentic information in any form concerning the past," said our intelligent friend the missionary. "It is to them quite as unknown as the future. They possess traditions, but such as are only fragmentary and unreliable, probably the inventions of their designing priests. Their origin and history are in fact clouded in utter obscurity." Their language seems to be an offshoot of the Malay, and does not resemble especially the Hawaiian or Maori languages, which are almost identical with each other. This seems rather strange, as their ocean home is situated in a direct line between the two, which should indicate, one would think, a similar origin of the races. "They live under an iron bondage of superstition, which seems inherent in their nature," said our informant, "and which no attempt at Christian enlightenment appears to dispel."
One instance was related to us relative to their blind simplicity, but which at the same time evinced a degree of shrewdness. A chief, old and decrepit, who realized that he was near his end, after attending the missionary services on a certain Sabbath afternoon, returned to his cabin where he was soon after found going through all the barbaric ceremonies of his ancient faith before a wooden image, beating time on a rude tom-tom, and performing other strange rites. The missionary, who had come to bring him some medicine for a chronic trouble from which he suffered, expressed his surprise that he should be thus engaged in idolatrous worship after so recently participating in the Christian ceremonies. "Ah!" said the old savage, "me fish with two hook. I catchee fish. Fish no like one hook, he bite other hook." It was na?vely expressed, but signified that by accepting both creeds, – that of the Samoan priests and that of the missionaries, – he would have two chances instead of one of getting to the better world, toward which even South Sea Islanders hopefully turn their eyes.
On the occasion of our second visit to the Samoans, – that is, on the return voyage coming north, – we had more opportunity to study the race; but the shrill whistle of the steamer finally warned our visitors away from the vessel, – a signal which they well understood and generally heeded. The Government boat having put her mail on board, there was nothing further to detain us. When we were once more fairly under way, it was found that one of the natives had been left on board bargaining with the passengers in the cabin below. He coolly tied up the silver he had received for his wares in a knot of his breech-cloth, stepped to the ship's side, and plunged headlong into the sea. Rising quickly to the surface he struck out for Tutuila, a league and more away, with no more seeming hesitation than we would feel in beginning a walk of a like distance upon the land. Once he was seen to turn upon his back and float for a moment leisurely upon the surface, but soon resumed his swimming position again, heading steadily for the land.
At that moment the cry came from forward, "There she blows!" the usual signal at sea for a whale in sight, and all eyes were turned to watch the gambols of a large whale and her calf, half a mile to windward. It will be remembered that these were once famous whaling latitudes, but this adventurous industry has now become almost a thing of the past in these regions. In the mean time the Leviathan and its giant baby were lashing the sea and sending up small mountains of spray, the calf occasionally leaping quite out of the water in its redundant sportiveness. When we finally turned toward the swimming native again, in the opposite direction, his shock of yellow hair was quite lost to view amid the vivid sunlight which blazed over the quivering sea.
After the Samoan group, we passed through or near the Society Islands, encircled by coral reefs, but kept steadily on our course south-southwest, making thirteen knots an hour, and hastening out of the heat of the tropics into a cooler and more comfortable region.
In no other part of the world has the author seen a clearer atmosphere or a grander display of the heavens at night than was enjoyed in the regions through which we were now sailing. Hours were passed in watching the luminous sky, where new and brilliant constellations were serenely gazing down upon us. Venus, the evening star, shone so clear and bright as to cast a long wake upon the wrinkled surface of the sea. There are but about fifteen hundred stars which can be counted from a ship's deck by the naked eye, – a fact which but few persons realize. With an opera-glass or telescope, however, the number can be much increased. We are told that astronomers, by means of their greatly improved facilities, have counted twenty millions of stars. This may be true, and yet it seems almost incredible. We have seen an observer, not familiar with the location of the Southern Cross, examine the heavens long and patiently before being able to find this famous cluster of the Southern Hemisphere, – a visual obtuseness not uncommon among persons who seldom watch the heavens by night. Few give much thought to the stars. Some hastily glance at them and pronounce them beautiful; others regard them with more patient admiration; but not one in a thousand seriously and carefully studies them. A good way of readily finding the Cross is to remember that there are two prominent stars in Centaurus that point directly to it. The one farthest from the Cross is regarded as the fixed star nearest to the earth, but its distance from us is twenty thousand times that of the sun. Stellar distances especially can be realized only by comparison. For instance: were it possible for a person to journey to the sun in a single day of twenty-four hours, basing the time upon a corresponding calculation of speed, it would require fifty-five years to reach this nearest star!
Probably not one half of those who have sailed beneath its tranquil and impressive beauty are aware, that in the middle of the Southern Cross there is a brilliant cluster of stars, which though not visible to the naked eye, are brought out with a strong telescope, – shining like new gems in a beautiful necklace of pearls. In these far-southern waters we saw for the first time what are called the Magellan Clouds. They lie between Canopus, Acherner, and the South Pole. These two light clouds – or what seem to be such, seen in a perfectly clear sky – are nothing more nor less than visible nebul?, or star-clusters, at such vast distances from the earth as to have by combination this effect upon the human vision.
At sea the stars assume perhaps a greater importance in our estimation than on land, because from them is obtained latitude and longitude, on the principles of terrestrial measurement; and thus by their aid the mariner determines his bearing in the great waste of ocean. Forty or fifty centuries ago the Chaldean shepherds were accustomed to gaze upon these shining orbs in worshipful admiration, but with no idea of their vast system. They were to them "the words of God, the Scriptures of the skies." It has been left to our later days to formulate the methods of their constant and endless procession. All the principal stars are now well known and their limits clearly defined upon charts, so that we can easily acquire a knowledge of them. The inhabitants of North America have the constellation of Ursa Major as also the North Star always with them; they never wholly disappear below the horizon. When the mariner sailing north of the equator has determined the position of this group of seven stars, two of which are known as "the pointers" indicating the North Star, he can designate all points of the compass unerringly. But in the South Sea, where we are writing these lines, a little north of New Zealand, they are not visible. Other constellations however, whose relative positions are as fixed in the Southern Hemisphere, become equally sure guides to the watchful navigator.
How suggestive are these "altar-fires of heaven," particularly when seen from the deck of a ship, alone and at midnight, surrounded by infinite space, thousands of miles from land and home! Generations of men succeed one another in rapid succession, nations rise and fade away, whole races are obliterated from existence, pyramids moulder into dust with thousands of years upon their heads; but the stars fade not; they are the same, unchanged, unchanging, through all the centuries, uninfluenced by the fall of empires or the wreck of human hopes and beliefs.
On the night of the 20th of June the hundred and eightieth meridian was crossed, and the 21st of June was dropped into the sea, so to speak. We had no Tuesday that week; Wednesday followed Monday, – a natural experience in going round the world, which has often been explained. We had been losing time daily in sailing south and west, until this change of date became necessary to regulate the ship's time in accordance with that of Greenwich. An ungeographical Englishman whom we had on board our steamer refused to alter the time of his watch from the first, saying that he only knew that it would come right of itself when he got back to London, which was true enough, though he could not explain why.
Twenty-one days from San Francisco the light at Tiri-tiri Point, on the coast of New Zealand, was sighted, twenty miles distant from Auckland. We entered the harbor early in the morning, and were soon moored at the Union Company's wharf, at the foot of Queen Street. Here the ship not only had freight to discharge, but two or three hundred tons of coal to take on board; so we enjoyed a whole day wherein to stroll about the city, and in the evening we witnessed the "Pirates of Penzance" at Abbott's Opera House. The play was admirably performed by an itinerant company, which regularly makes the rounds of the colonial cities of both Australia and New Zealand.
The outer and inner harbors of Auckland are very beautiful, having picturesque headlands, dominated by volcanic mountains and extinct craters, – indeed the city stands upon the lava vomited from the bowels of Mount Eden. The first land made on coming from the Samoan group was great Barrier Island, which separates the ocean eastward from the Hauraki Gulf, upon which Auckland is situated.
As we shall return in future chapters to this interesting country, no more need be said of its northern metropolis in this connection.
Early on the morning after our arrival the "Zealandia" was again under way, steering north-northeast, until the most northerly point of New Zealand was doubled, then an exact due-west course sped the good ship on her way to Sydney, Australia, twelve hundred and eighty miles distant. It is a stormy ocean that lies between these two countries, and it is useless to disguise the fact that the voyager who crosses it must make up his mind to great and unavoidable discomfort. Any one pursuing the course indicated in these pages, however, will have become pretty well seasoned before entering upon this stage of the long journey. The famous English man-of-war "Challenger" essayed this voyage between Sydney and Auckland twice before she accomplished it, finally fighting her way through the boisterous waves and adverse currents with the united power of sails and steam.
We approached the coast of Australia in tempestuous weather and at night, the "Zealandia" stoutly ploughing her way through a heavy head-sea, while half a gale of wind blew in our faces, and hailstones nearly as large as marbles cumbered the deck. The ship seemed to evince almost human instinct, pausing for an instant now and again, and trembling in every seam as huge waves blocked the way; then, bending down determinedly to the work of forcing a path through the opposing billows, she forged ahead, with the bows at one moment lifted high in air, and the next half buried in the sea. A few days previous we were in the burning latitudes of the Samoans, now we were on the verge of freezing. This temperature was perhaps exceptional, and indeed after landing we were satisfied that it was so. The storm gradually abated during the night, and the clouds rapidly cleared away, racing madly across the sky like retreating cavalry. While we were still fifty miles off the shore, which was hidden in night and distance, the first officer of the ship, knowing that we would thank him for doing so, awoke us from sleep, and as soon as we joined him on deck he pointed out a glow on the far-away horizon, which he said was caused by the light-house on Sydney Heads. Having carefully watched the ship's reckoning, we knew her position very nearly, and looking at him in surprise, we asked, —
"Is it possible to make out a light-house at sea from such a distance as your reckoning shows you to be from land?"
"Certainly," he replied, "for there is Hornby Light."
"It seems impossible," we exclaimed.
"Perhaps I should qualify the remark," said he.
"In what way?" we asked.
"I do not mean that we actually see the light itself, but we clearly see its reflection upon the horizon."
"Still," we rejoined, "it seems incredible."
"You must remember," said he, "that this is an electric light, placed on the top of a very lofty cliff; and also that the light-house itself is many feet in height."
"Seeing is believing," was all we could say.
But we had not before supposed that a light under any circumstances could be made out at such a distance on the sea. Hornby Light occupies one of the most important headlands on the entire coast of Australia, and great care is taken to maintain its efficiency.
After a sea-voyage of nearly a month's duration, the sight of land was indeed welcome. One could not but feel a burning impatience once more to tread the solid earth. This was no isolated volcanic island lying half submerged amid a broad expanse of turbulent seas; it was literally terra firma, the visible portion of a whole continent. A steamer of two or three hundred tons brings the pilot off the shore in these vexed and boisterous seas. The struggle to board us was one requiring coolness and courage, nor was it accomplished without considerable risk.
Six hours after sighting the distant light of Sydney Heads we were running in between the two bold, frowning, giant cliffs which form the entrance of this remarkable harbor. The ship was on half speed. Botany Bay was passed, – a now lovely retreat, retaining nothing of its ill-repute but the name. It is seven miles below the capital, and now forms a pleasure resort for the citizens of Sydney. Wooloomaloo Bay, McQuade's Point, Garden Island, and the forts were passed one after the other, as we slowly forged ahead through the channel. Some surprise was felt at the indifferent nature of the visible defences of Sydney harbor, assuming that defensive means are required at all; but it seems that there are torpedoes, booms, and submarine appliances all ready to be sunk should such defences be called for by any hostile demonstration.
To eyes weary of the monotony of the sea the aspect of the famous harbor with its lake-like expanse, its many green islands with handsome residences scattered over them, its graceful promontories and the abundance of semi-tropical vegetation, all together formed one of the loveliest pictures imaginable, heightened as these attractive surroundings were by the dewy freshness and glow of the early morning sun.
The wharf at which we landed was not in the busiest maritime district, but seemed to be situated in the centre of the town as it were, our tall masts taking their place among the multitude of church spires and weather-vanes which crowd together here. The usual custom-house ceremonies were encountered, which in this instance were not of an annoying character, and we soon began to realize that we were upon the soil of this great island-continent which possesses an area of nearly three millions of square miles. So far as we can learn, it was a land entirely unknown to the ancients, though it is more than probable that the Chinese navigators knew of the existence of North Australia at a very early period. Still, until about a century ago it presented only a picture of primeval desolation. The hard work of the pioneer has been done, and civilization has rapidly changed the whole aspect of the great south lands. To-day the continent is bordered by thrifty seaports connected by railroads, coasting-steamers, turnpikes, and electric telegraphs. It is occupied by an intelligent European population numbering between three and four millions, possessing such elements of political and social prosperity as place them in an honorable position in the line of progressive nations.
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