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A TOUGH YARN.
RELATING THE MURDER OF THE SECOND MATE AND A BOY, BELONGING
TO THE SHIP TRITON, OF BRISTOL, CAPTAIN BUCKLE, COMMANDER, IN THE RIVER DANGER, ON THE COAST OF AFRICA : AND THE ESCAPE OF TWO NEGRO PRISONERS FROM ON BOARD THE SAME SHIP, THEN LYING IN THE RIVER GABON.
**** Our vessel then lying in the mouth of the River Danger, where the tide at ebb and flood ran like a mill-stream, the negrotraders were afraid to venture so far from shore in their canoes, especially when heavily laden with ebony, camwood, or ivory, lest they should be swamped, or driven out to sea ; so two or three of the principal men among them waited upon the captain, and requested him to lend them our pinnace, by means of which they could with ease and safety bring off as much wood in one voyage as a canoe would carry in six. The captain, desirous to complete our lading as soon as possible, that we might leave the coast before the rainy season com mmenced, agreed to their request, on condition that one of the traders should remain on board as security for the safe return of the pinnace.
They cast lots which it should be, and a merry, good-numoured fellow, called Captain Andrews, was left on board, while the others departed, with the assurance of returning the next morning with a good boat-load of wood.
In the mean time Captain Andrews made himself perfectly at home among us, strutted about the deck, dressed in a scarlet-jacket, nankeen breeches, (but neither shirt, waistcoat, shoes, nor stockings,) and a large straw hat : talked, laughed, smoked his pipe, and drank his palm wine (contained in a calabash slung round his neck), with as much fashionable ease and impudence as any other captain could have done, who, like him, only owed his title to a scarletjacket. But his gaiety was somewhat checked the next morning, when his two companions returned in a canoe, and stated that, in consequence of their unskilful navigation, and the pinnace being heavily laden, they had run her aground on the right bank of the river, and could not get her off without assistance from the ship. So the second mate, with the carpenter and a boy, were despatched in the jolly-boat, accompanied by the two black traders in their canoe, to ascertain what damage the pinnace had sustained, and to assist in getting her afloat again. Poor Captain Andrews was very much concerned at this accident, and rated his companions, with great vociferation, for their carelessness, which might endanger his personal safety. He remained in a state of the most ludicrous distress, totally unable to reply to the nautical witticisms of the sailors, the sarcastic remarks made upon the unskilfulness of his partners, and the danger he himself ran of being taken round to Gabon River, and sold for a slave to the Frenchmen. He attempted, in his barbarous dialect, to defend his companions; appealed to the captain,
who pretended to look very grave upon the occasion; endeavoured to assume an air of careless indifference, but cast many an anxious look up the river, and seemed to measure with his eye the distance between the vessel and the shore. The return of the jolly-boat in the evening with intelligence that the pinnace had not suffered more damage than a few hours' work would repair, removed our anxiety, and restored Captain Andrews to his usual confidence and good humour. But now
- The beil has struck, the watch is set,
And hums the ditty that his Susan loved.' On the following morning the second mate, carpenter and boy, were sent ashore in the jolly-boat to repair the damage done to the pinnace. About dinner-time (twelve o'clock) the mate and boy returned, having left the carpenter at work. The captain, however, distrusting the natives, did not think it proper the carpenter should be left by himself; he therefore ordered the mate and boy to return, to lend the carpenter their assistance, and all of them to come on board at sunset. I was struck with the reluctance with which the second mate obeyed these orders: he came below into the steerage, unlocked his chest, and lifting up the lid, examined the contents, as if unconscious what he was doing ; relocked it, and was on the point of putting the key in his jacket-pocket, when, observing me, he gave it to me, (a thing he was not in the habit of doing,) went up the hatchway, and so over the side into the boat, without uttering a word. Poor fellow! he seemed to feel a presentiment of his melancholy fate. We proceeded with our work as usual, clearing the billets of wood, and stowing them away in the hold. Evening approached, and we knocked off work; but still no tidings of the boat. Night came on, and the watch was set ; but no boat. We hung lanterns in the shrouds and the mizen yard-arm, and kept a good look-out; but the boat did not return. Next morning the pinnace came alongside with the carpenter, the two black traders, and a load of wood; but they had seen nothing of the jolly-boat. What could have become of them ?' was a question we were almost afraid to ask our. selves. All was doubt, anxiety, and conjecture. It would have been imprudent, and, indeed, useless, to have sent any of the ship's company upon such an inquiry, (though they were all eager enough to volunteer for such a purpose,) as, being, in the first place, ignorant of the navigation of the river, they might become bewildered among its numerous winding creeks: and in the next, not understanding the language, they were neither qualified to seek nor obtain intelligence from the natives. In this dilemma our friend, Captain Andrews, volunteered his services to go with his two companions, and make search for our shipmates. His proposal being accepted, they were instructed to make inquiries on both sides of the river, and offer rewards to those who would assist in restoring our people, if detained amongst them, or give us certain intelligence of their fate, being furnished with a small quantity of rum and tobacco, and being promised liberal reward for themselves if they succeeded in their mission. In the mean time the natives continued to come on board and trade with us as usual ; and in the course of the day we learned from them a report that the mate and boy were detained at a fishing town up the river. It was necessary to act decisively upon receiv. ing this information; and the Captain accordingly determined to seize on two or three of the natives, and keep them as hostages for the safety of our people. Three canoes coming down the river were pointed out as belonging to the fishing town before mentioned, and it was thought proper to make the attempt upon them, the captain giving strict orders to use no more violence than was necessary, and, above all, to avoid bloodshed. The boatswain and five of the most resolute of the crew, got down the starboard side of the ship, and concealed themselves at the bottom of the pinnace; and when the canoes came alongside, we held them in conversation at the larboard gangway, while our men in the pinnace, coming round under the stern, attempted to surprise them. The negroes, finding themselves attacked at such a disadvantage, did not attempt resistance, but took to flight, some in their canoes, while others jumped overboard, dived under water, and swam after their friends.
One of them, with his African knife or dagger, stabbed a seaman in the arm ; but the boatswain struck him over the head with the tiller of the rudder, and he fell overboard, but soon recovered himself, and swam away like a duck after his companions, who took him on board, and they were all out of sight in a few minutes. During this skirmish I was much amused with the behaviour of the natives on board ; they seemed quite delighted with the idea of the attempt to be made upon their countrymen, though, for aught they knew, it might end in their destruction ; they looked over the side of the vessel, endeavoured to animate the combatants by words and gestures, and when their friends took to flight, shouted after them, upbraiding them with cowardice. The prisoners we had taken were an old grey-headed man and his son: I never saw horror and affright more strongly depicted in the human countenance than it was in theirs, and I verily believe they expected nothing but instant death. However, we did not keep them long in suspense, for, being questioned by our tradesman, it was found they were ignorant of the loss of our people, and did not even belong to the place where they were reported to be detained ; so it was explained to them that if our boat and people returned they should be set at liberty ; but if not, they would be cither hung at the yard-arm, or sold for slaves; and with this consoling assurance they were chained and handcuffed, and lowered down into the hold. But they either did not understand, or did not believe us, for the lamentations of the old man and his son over each other were so piteous that I could not help being affected by it, which the mate perceiving, d-d me, for 'a snivelling whelp!' and laid a rope's end over my shoulders. I was obliged to submit to this indignity ; but, in my own mind, I swore to have satisfaction - and I did. All the next day we were in expectation of our sable friend, Captain Andrews, and many an anxious look was sent up the river, in hopes of seeing his scarlet jacket. At three o'clock a boy in the mizentop sang out that a canoe was coming down the river. All hands were instantly on deck, and every eye turned in that direction, but a bend in the river hid them from the view of those on deck; so some mounted into the tops and shrouds to get a sight of them. At length a canoe with three negroes was seen coming round a point of land, and shortly after Captain Andrews and his two companions mounted the deck. I could not help thinking (even at that anxious moment) that we should have formed a good group for the pencil of an artist ; the scene being the deck of the vessel, where anxious expectations kept every one fixed and motionless in his position ; the captain seated by the companion ; the mate and weather.beaten boatswain standing by him ; the sailors anxiously crowding around, some mounted on the guns, or hanging on by the shrouds; the three negro traders, in their half-wild, half civilized costume, relating the event of their voyage, and the whole group lighted up by the setting of an African sun.
Their statement (confirmed by subsequent intelligence) was this. The mate and boy, after leaving the ship a second time, were driven by the wind and tide past the place where they intended to land to a considerable distance up the river. Having reached a small island, or rather bank of sand, covered with bushes and weeds, they thought it best to land there, and wait for the turn of tide ; so they drew the boat ashore, and lighted a fire to keep off the musquitoes. The fire attracted the attention of the natives on the bank, who put off in their canoes, and made for the island. The mate and boy attempted to keep them off, and, as they said, threw stones at them ; upon which the negroes landed, and having made them prisoners, carried them to a village up the river, where, after being stripped and plundered, they were confined in a hut all night, without food. The next morning, quarrelling about the division of the booty, the natives fell upon their hapless victims, and murdered them in cold blood.
On receiving this intelligence, grief and indignation filled every breast. The second mate was a young man greatly beloved, for the kindness of his manner, and the humanity of his disposition. The boy, too, was a favourite among the men, for his dry drollery, and singing a good song, but principally because the chief mate had taken an inveterate dislike to him ; and the thought that they had both been sacrificed with such wanton barbarity inspired projects of revenge. The men requested the captain to allow them to arm themselves, and go up the river and burn the town. This request the captain very properly refused. He told them it would not be prudent to suffer so many men to leave the ship exposed to attack : that, living in small villages on shallow creeks, accessible only by narrow paths cut through forests of mangroves, the natives were skilful in bush-fighting, and could fire upon their enemies unseen, or attack them at a disadvantage, and cut off their retreat to the boats. So, recommending them to lay aside all thoughts of re. venge as impracticable, he hove up the anchor, and sailed for Gabon River.
In the mean time, the situation of our prisoners was truly pitiable. Chained and handcuffed in the hold, neither night nor day did the old man cease moaning over his son, who endeavoured by caresses to soothe his grief. Twice a day they were supplied with a scanty allow. ance of plantains and water : while those who performed the office took a malicious pleasure in augmenting their terror.
To relieve the poor wretches, I occasionally volunteered to attend VOL. VII.
upon them, and managed to increase their allowance with scraps from our mess. Arrived in the Gabon, their situation became more critical. Our boat was not returned ; the time of our departure apo proached ; the hold was gradually filling up, and I was hourly in expectation that they would be sent on board a French schooner lying in the river ; so I resolved to preserve them from such a fate. In the course of the day I furnished them with a marlinespike, by means of which they were enabled to reinove their fetters. I then cautioned them to remain in the hold till the ship's company were asleep, when I would give them a signal, on hearing which they were to climb up the hatchway, come upon deck, and getting over the side, drop into the boat, which lay alongside, and paddle away for the right bank of the river. It may be questioned how, if I did not understand their language, I could make them comprehend my intenti My answer is, by the universal language of naturegesticulation. Having proceeded so far, it may be supposed I felt anxious for the success of my plan, since a failure might prove fatal to them, and produce unpleasant consequences to myself
. In the evening, as usual, after leaving off work, we cleaned the decks, served the
grog, and set the watch. The first watch (after the dogwatch), from eight to twelve, was the chief mate's'; the second, from twelve till four, that of the carpenter. At eight, the mate went down to supper. The sailors, after walking the deck, sate down upon the main hatchway, under the lee of the long boat, and, after talking for some time, wrapped themselves in their pea.jackets, and fell asleep.
The glass in the binnacle was out for the third time, and I had struck the bell three (half-past nine), when the mate came on deck, and giving me the keys of his liquor-case, ordered me to make him a glass of grog, which I composed of more spirits than water; he did not complain of its strength, but lighting his pipe, ordered me to read something to him. Going forward I struck the bell four (ten), and went below for a book. My collection at that time was rather select than numerous, and consisted of 'Robin Hood's Garland,' 'Hamilton Moore's Navigation,' an odd volume of Plays, "Enfield's Speaker,' and 'The Life of Captain Jones.' I took the first I laid my hand upon, viz. “The wonderful, surprising, and uncommon Voyages and Adventures of Captain Jones to Patagonia ; relating his adventures to sea ; his first landing, and strange combat with a mighty bear ; his furious battle with his six-and-thirty men against an army of eleven kings, with their overthrow and deaths
; his strange and admirable sea-fight with six huge galleys of Spain and nine thousand soldiers : his being taken prisoner, and hard usage ; his being set at liberty by the King's command, in exchange for twenty-four Spanish captains, and returns to England; a comical description of Captain Jones's ruby nose.---Part the Second. His incredible adventures and achievements by sea and land, particularly his miraculous deliverance from a wreck at sea, by the support of a dolphin; his several desperate duels ; his combat with Bayadar Cham, a giant of the race of Og ; his deep employments
, and happy success in business of state ; all which, and more, is but the tithe of his own relations, which he continued until he grew speechless and died ; with his elegy and epitaph.'. Sitting down upon the deck, I began reading by the light of the lamp in the binnacle, but had scarcely