different memories

During the first half of the 19th century British explorers started to map the south eastern coast of New Guinea. About one of the landings the commander of the H.M.S. Bramble: Charles Yule wrote this

april the 15th 1846 
''Immediately on landing I hoisted a union jack and took possession in the name of her Britannic Majesty of all the coast of New Guinea from the S.E. most point of land in sight to where Capt. Blackwood had terminated his surveying operations in HMS Fly, according to the usual form ...''

However, there was a clerk called John Sweatman on board who joined this landing. He also made a report of this memorable day and he reveals some more details of this landing.......

SWEATMAN. JOHN; clerk on the Bramble April 16th 1846 Cape Possession (8. 48. S, 146. 30.E) 
''On landing we found the union jack had been forgotten, we however made a substitute by pencilling a flag on a leaf of the note book, and this being attached to a tree, Mr. Yule took possession, in the name of Her Majesty, of all the Coast of New Guinea from where the ''Fly'' commenced her survey to the S.E. most land in sight, i e Lat. 8. 48' S. Long. 146. 30', the people giving three very low cheers, lest too much noise should attract the attention of the natives. Being between two cliffs and almost shut out from sight we did not fear being troubled with the natives and remained some hours whilst the Commander got the necessary observations for Latitude, Time, True bearing etc. having finished which about 12; an hour after noon we prepared to re-embark and the 2nd, gig was veered in through the rollers to take us off. The surf had by this time greatly increased and it was found impossible for us all to go off at once, two men were accordingly ordered to wade out first with the instruments, but they had scarcely reached the boat, which was about half way through the rollers when one of the oars suddenly breaking she broached to and was almost immediately swamped, and though the chronometer and the Commander's quixtant were saved, the artificial horizon, arms, ammunition and every thing else, were lost and one man, who could not swim, nearly drowned before we could get him ashore. We collected the oars, sails etc. and dragged them up the beach and seeing from the tremendous surf joined to a strong current running along the shore and which kept sweeping the boats broadside on, that any attempt the gig might make to take us off would prove fatal to her also, Mr. Yule hailed her to anchor and wait for the surf to go down and directed us to retire into the bush so as to keep ourselves as much as possible out of sight of the natives and there wait patiently till the surf should subside. We found a little brook of good water hard by, and I had a little grog in my pocket pistol (flask?) which gave a small nip to Charles, Pollard and myself; the former also managed to make a few extempore pipes of reed, etc. all hands then sat down, smoked quietly under the shade of the trees: in the mean time, the 1st gig remained at anchor outside the surf and having got hold of the 2nd gig's painter tried to bale her out but in vain owing to the heavy sea that was running, the sea breeze having now set in. This last enabled the ''Castlereagh'' who had been drifted away almost out of sight to the S.E. to come up to us and about 3 o'clock we saw her anchor abreast of the native village on the other side of the Cape, and Mr Yule made signs to Wright to go to her for assistance. He did so and about 4 p.m. she anchored abreast of us and sent her two boats to our aid and by their help our 2nd gig was baled out and the 4 boats then anchored together outside the surf. Soon afterwards, notwithstanding the surf still ran tremendously high, and in spite of all our signs to the contrary, the ''Castlereagh's'' cutter commenced to veer in through the surf, Andrews, who was in her, waving his hand energetically to the cliff to the Eastward, a signal we did not at first understand, though we soon had but too good cause to do so. The cutter, as we had expected, was swamped and thus Andrews and 4 men were added to our number, making 15 in all, totally unarmed and defenceless, all our arms etc. ammunition having been lost or wetted, and the other boats being unable from the surf to give us the least assistance. We now saw the drift of Andrews' signals, for a party of 30 or 40 natives came pouring round the point, armed with spears, clubs, bows and axes, and ran towards us. To fly was vain, to resist, unarmed as we were was equally useless, our only plan was to advance in a friendly way to meet the savages and to endeavour to amuse and keep on good terms with them until the surf should subside sufficiently to enable us to get off. Mr. Yule accordingly ran forward waving a green branch and dancing 1'Australian, on seeing him the main body stopped short and one man advanced to meet him, poising his spear as if in doubt, but seeing we were friendly he lowered it and the two soon embraced and sat down; others from both sides then came on and in a few minutes we were all mixed indiscriminately together.


At first they seemed overwhelmed with surprise and curiosity at the sight of such extraordinary beings as we must have appeared to them, for they could never have seen white men before, and they conducted themselves tolerably well, endeavouring to persuade us to go to their village round the Cape, and examining our clothes etc. with much interest. We endeavoured to explain to them that we landed to look for water, and I tried them with the Darnley Isl. language and with Malay but they understood neither; some of them assisted us in several attempts we made to launch the cutter, but all of these proved unsuccessful, and after being repeatedly swamped, she was at last swept down upon a rocky point and dashed to pieces. For some time we kept up the appearance of an indifference and merriment we were far from feeling, and mingled freely with the natives, but they were now beginning to be fully aware of our hopeless situation and certain of having us at their mercy commenced robbing us, and appropriating the sails and every thing we had saved from the boats, exulting and hooting at every fruitless attempt the boats made to land. Fresh parties kept pouring round the point and in less than an hour they numbered between 80 to 90 men. We had made up our minds to die and scarcely attempted to resist the open thefts of the blacks; once or twice we thought our time was come, they first laid hold of our arms and felt them as if to prove our strength and once several of us were absolutely fisted by them. One, after feeling my arm carefully (I half suspected, it was to try if I was fat enough for eating) suddenly seized both my hands and held them fast, he was however deceived in his estimate either of my strength or his own, for I threw him from me with the greatest ease. One thing, I thought, prevented me from being so much molested as others, my left arm had been tattooed with blue and red figures up to the shoulder and as I had no shirt on (having lent mine to the man who was so nearly drowned and who was stripped) this soon attracted the attention of the natives, who examined it carefully and evidently from their manner and the increased deference they showed me, imagined I was a chief of some importance, particularly as I remarked those who appeared to be chiefs among them, and they alone, were also tattooed in blue about the breast and shoulders. One in particular, a corpulent old man with a very good tempered expression of countenance, compared his marks with mine very attentively and then said something to the others which made them leave me immediately. There appeared to be two distinct parties among the natives; about 2/3rds. of them, among whom was this old chief, were very little painted, and only with white and red and lightly armed and they appeared inclined to be friendly enough with us; the remainder of the party however, who were mostly young men, were painted hideously with black and red, elaborately ornamented and well furnished with clubs, spears and axes of green stone: and these were the men who appeared longing for the time to come when they might safely attack us (for as yet they evidently had some little fear of us unarmed as we were) and who before our eyes, coolly put the sails oars etc. on their shoulders and walked off with them round the point. The fat old man before mentioned and  two or three others, were of a paler colour than the rest, and evidently exercised considerable authority over them, checking the attempts they sometimes made to seize our persons and in some degree their thieving also. It was principally the young men who seemed anxious for hostilities, very likely they wished for an opportunity of showing their courage in fight or perhaps a custom may prevail among these people, as among many other savage nations, of every young man being obliged to signalize himself in some way or to procure so many skulls before he could marry: we knew they did keep the skulls of their enemies, the ''Fly's'' having found above 300 in one hut, and as this hypothesis would account for the more peaceable dispositions of the older men, who would probably have already gained sufficient trophies, we thought it far from unlikely. Meanwhile the natives grew more and more rapacious and were rapidly increasing in numbers, and to add to our discomfort two canoes each containing 30 or 40 men, came round and hovered between the ''Castlereagh'' and the boats as if with the intention of cutting off the latter; the sun was fast sinking, we saw him, we thought, for the last time, for we knew that according to the usual practice of savages, as soon as he was below the horizon the work of death would begin. Mr. Yule, though generally so timid among natives, now that there was really danger behaved admirably, most of the men too showed great presence of mind, though all gave themselves up for lost, one or two came to me lamenting their fate and saying it was ''all up with us'' and these we endeavoured to reassure as well as we could, but most of them seemed indifferent and sullen, apparently thinking they were past help. I myself had no hopes of getting off again, all I though of was to try to sell my life as dearly as possible, I tried to persuade the men to keep together, feeling sure that if they did so, we might in the event of an outbreak, wrest some of their weapons from them and at least have a struggle for the mastery, but they wandered about listlessly as if they did not care for anything. Mr. Yule was busy trying to amuse the natives and I did not like to venture to suggest any thing to him lest he should think me impertinent. I still had a brace of pistols in my belt, which I had so secured that though I had had them constantly under water for upwards of an hour when trying to launch the ''Castlereagh's'' cutter, I was pretty sure of their going off, and I kept close to a young native with a very handy club, resolved as soon as an attack should be made to blow his brains out and seize his weapon for my own defence. He had no suspicions of my amiable intentions for he kept hold of my left arm in very friendly guise and kept trying to coax me to go to the village with him. Andrews and one of the men offered to swim of through the surf to the boats etc. carry any orders for Aid, but Mr Yule would not allow it, and indeed they could never have succeeded in the attempt. At length the surf appeared to go down somewhat, the current which ran along the coast having slackened and as a last resource the Commander now waved for a boat to come in at all hazards: the second gig, having been cleared of everything but the oars and 3 men to manage her was veered through the surf accordingly; the blacks yelled and exulted as sea after sea broke over her, but without harm for she came in and took 5 men safely off to the other boats being however nearly filled in doing so. Having been baled out, she again ventured in and this time, Andrews, I and 3 men were ordered to go off in her: from the difficulty with which she had accomplished her first turn, we had little hopes of success, and resolving should she swamp, rather to be drowned in the attempt to swim off than to be murdered on shore, Andrews and I threw away everything that could hinder our swimming, keeping on only our flannel trousers, which we tucked up above our knees, toughened our belts (in which I still kept my pistols which I determined to save if I could) and so half wading, half swimming, reached the gig and hauled out safely to the other boats. Mr Yule afterwards told me that just as I was getting into the gig, one of the blacks deliberately poised his spear at me, but he jumped before him throwing up his arms so as to baulk his aim and the ruffian then slunk away to the back. The gig was now veered in for the third time and the natives seeing their prey about to escape them, became more than ever violent etc. rapacious, the Commander's own No. 1 quixtant (valued at 21) the chronometer and micrometer, were forcibly wrested from him and at any attempt to resist, axes were lifted and spears levelled at him, he and Pollard were stripped naked and in this state were hauled into the boat and brought out to us in safety.''


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