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ARRIVAL AT EASTER ISLAND
1722 . . Discovered by the Dutch Admiral Roggeveen.
1770 . . Visited by the Spaniards under Gonzalez.
1774 . . Visited by the English under Cook.
1786 . . Visited by the French under La Perouse.
Receives occasional visits from passing ships.
1862 Dec. . Peruvian slave-raiders carry off many inhabitants.
1864 Jan. . Arrival of first missionary from Valparaiso.
1867 (cir.) . Commercial exploitation begins — arrival of M. Dutrou Bornier from Tahiti.
1868 . . Visit of H.M.S. Topaze — removal of statues now in British Museum.
1888 . . Visit of U.S.A. warship Mohican.
1888 . . Chilean Government takes possession.
1897 . . Mr. Merlet of Valparaiso leases the greater part
of the island, and subsequently forms a company for the "Exploitation of Easter Island."
For further historical details, see below.
The manager, Mr. Edmunds, shortly appeared, and to our relief, for we had not been sure how he would view such an invasion, gave us a very kind welcome. He is English, and was, to all intent, at the time of our arrival, the only white man on the island; a French carpenter, who lived at Hanga Roa with a native wife, being always included in the village community. His house is at Mataveri (fig. 25), a spot about two miles to the south of the village, surrounded by modern plantations which are almost the only trees on the island; immediately behind it rises the swelling mass of the volcano Rano Kao. The first meal on Easter Island, taken here with Mr. Edmunds, remains a lasting memory. It was a large plain room with uncarpeted floor, scrupulously orderly; a dinner table, a few chairs, and two small book-cases formed the whole furniture. The door on to the veranda was open, for the night was hot, and the roar of breakers could be heard on the beach; while near at hand conversation was accompanied by a never-ceasing drone of mosquitoes. The light of the unshaded lamp was reflected from the clean roughdried cloth of the table round which we sat, and lit up our host's features, the keen brown face of a man who had lived for some thirty years or more, most of it in the open air and under a tropical sun. He was telling us of events which one hardly thought existed outside magazines and books of adventure, but doing it so quietly that, with closed eyes, it might have been fancied that the entertainment was at some London restaurant, and we were still at the stage of discussing the latest play.
"This house," said our host, “was built some fifty years ago by Bornier, who was the first to exploit the island. He was murdered by the natives: they seized the moment when he was descending from a ladder; one spoke to him and another struck him down. They buried him on the hillock near the cliff just outside the plantation: you will see his grave, when the grass is not so long; it is marked by a circle of stones. A French warship arriving almost immediately afterwards, they explained that he had been killed by a fall from his horse, and this is the version still given in some of the accounts of the island, but murder will always out. After that another manager had trouble: it was over sheep-stealing. There were three or four white men here at the time, and they all rode down to the village to teach the natives a lesson, but the ponies turned restive at the sound of gun-fire, and the rifles themselves were defective, so the boot was on the other foot, and they had to retreat up here followed by the mob; for months they lived in what was practically a state of siege, with one man always on guard for fear of attack.
"My latest guests were a crew of shipwrecked mariners, Americans, who landed on the island last June. A fortnight earlier the barometer here had been extraordinarily low, but we did not get much wind; further to the south, however, the gale was terrific, and the El Dorado was in the midst of it. The captain, who had been a whaler in his day, said that he had never seen anything approaching it, the sea was simply a seething mass of crested waves. The ship was a schooner, trading between Oregon and a Chilean port; she was a long way from land, as sailing vessels make a big semicircle to get the best wind. She had a deck load of timber, 15 feet high, which of course shifted in such a sea; she sprang leaks in every direction, and it was obvious that she must soon break up. The crew took to their boat, not that they had much hope of saving their lives, but simply because there was nothing else to be done. They got some tins of milk and soup on board, and a box of biscuits, and a cask holding perhaps twenty gallons of water. The captain managed to secure his sextant, but when he went back for his chronometers, the chart-room was too deep in water for him to be able to reach them. They saw by the chart that the nearest land was this island: it was seven hundred miles off, and as they had no chronometer, and could take no risks, they would have to go north first in order to get their latitude, which would add on another two hundred. There was nothing for it, however, but to do the best they could; they had more gales too, and only saved the boat from being swamped by making a sea-anchor of their blankets. The spray of course kept washing over them, and as the boat was only 20 feet long and there were eleven of them, there was no room for them to He down. Each day they had between them a tin of the soup and one of milk, and an allowance of water, but the sea got into the water-cask and made it brackish, and before the end their sufferings from thirst were so great that one or two of them attempted to drink salt water; the mate stopped that by saying that he would shoot the first man who did it.
"After nine days they sighted this island, but then luck was against them, for the wind changed, and it was forty-eight hours, after they saw the coast, before they were able to beach the boat. They got on shore at the other end of the island, which is uninhabited. They were pretty much at the last stage of exhaustion, and their skin was in a terrible condition with salt water; their feet especially were so bad that they could hardly walk. One of them fell down again and again, but struggled on saying, ' I won't give up, I won't give up.' At last my man, who looks after the cattle over there, saw them and brought me word. The officers were put up here, you must really forgive the limitations of my wardrobe, for I had to give away nearly everything that I had in order to clothe them.
"The most curious part of the whole business was that after they had been here three or four months the captain took to the boat again. I believe that he was buying his house at home on the instalment plan, and that if he did not get in the last payment by the end of the year the whole would be forfeited; anyway, as soon as the fine weather came on he had out the boat and patched her up. He got two of his men to go with him. I lent him a watch for navigation purposes, and we did all we could for him in the way of food; there were no matches on the island, so he learnt how to make fire with two pieces of wood native fashion. Anyway, off he started last October for Mangareva, sixteen hundred miles from here; he must have got there safely, for you brought me an answer to a letter that I gave him to post.1
“But," and here for the first time the eyes of our host grew animated, and he raised his voice slightly, "it is maddening to think of that cargo drifting about in the Pacific. I do trust that next time a ship breaks up with a deck-load of timber, she will have at least the commonsense to do so near Easter Island." Then, after a pause, “I wish you no ill, but the yacht would make a splendid wreck."
We kept Mana for nearly two months while learning our new surroundings. Not only were we anxious to find if we had the necessary camp gear and stores, but we were engaged in agonised endeavours to foresee the details of excavation and research, in case essential tools or equipment had been forgotten, which the yacht could fetch from Chile. The time, however, arrived when she must go. Mr. Ritchie was now on shore with us for survey work, but as his service with the Expedition was limited, the vessel had to return in time to take him back to civilisation by the correct date. Mr. Gillam had from this time sole charge of the navigation of Mana. Instructions for him had to be written, and correspondence grappled with; business letters, epistles for friends, and reports to Societies were hurriedly dealt with; and an article which had been promised to the Spectator, “First Impressions of Easter Island," was written in my tent, by the light of a hurricane-lamp, during the small hours of more than one morning.
FIG. 25. — MANAGER’S MAP, MATAVERI.
Supported by foundation stones of old native houses
When the mail-bag was finally sealed, there was great difficulty in getting hold of Mana. The position of a skipper of a boat off Easter Island, unless she has strong steam-power, is not a happy one. Mr. Gillam used to lie in his berth at Cook's Bay hearing the waves break on the jagged reaches of lava, and the longer he listened the less he liked it. The instant that the wind shows signs of going to the west, a ship must clear out. It is reported that on one occasion there were some anxious moments on board: a sudden change of wind and tide were setting the yacht steadily on the rocks; the engineer was below in the engine-room, and Mr. Gillam shouted to him down the hatchway, "If you can't make that motor of yours go round in three minutes, you will know whether there is a God or not."
To get in touch with the yacht was like a game of hide-and-seek, for often by the time those on shore arrived at one side of the island, the wind had shifted, and she had run round to the other. She was on the north coast when we managed to catch her, and to get back to Mataveri necessitated retracing our steps, as will be seen from the map, over the high central ground of the island, and down on the other side; the track was rough, and the ride would ordinarily take from two to three hours. It was 4 p.m. before all work was done on board, the good-byes said, and we were put on shore; the sandy cove, the horses and men, with Mana in the offing, formed a delightful picture in the evening light, but there the charms of the situation ended. There was only one pack-horse, and a formidable body of last collections sat looking at us in a pile on the grass. In addition we had not, in the general pressure, sufficiently taken into account that we were bringing off the engineer, now to be turned into photographer; there he was, and not he alone but his goods and bedding. The sun set at five o'clock, and it would be dark at half-past five; it seemed hopeless to get back that night.
A neighbouring cave was first investigated as a possible abiding-place, but proved full of undesirable inhabitants, so everyone set to work and the amount stowed on that wretched pack-horse was wonderful. Then each attendant was slung round with some remaining object, S, took the additional member on his pony, and off we set. Before we got to the highest point all daylight had gone, and there was only just enough starlight to keep to the narrow track by each man following a dim vision of the one immediately in front. My own beast had been chosen as "so safe" that it was most difficult to keep him up with the others, let alone on his four legs. The packhorse, too, began pointing out that he was not enjoying the journey; the load was readjusted more than once, but when we were on the down grade again he came to a full stop and we all dismounted. There in the creepy darkness we had a most weird picnic; not far off was a burial-place, with a row of fallen statues, while the only light save that of the stars was the striking of an occasional match. S. produced a tin of meat, which he had brought from the yacht, and which was most acceptable, as he and I had had no substantial food, save a divided tin of sardines, since breakfast at 7 o'clock. He shared it out between the party amid cries from our retainers of "Good food, good Pappa," for we were, as in East Africa, known as "Pappa" and "Mam-ma" to a large and promising family. By some inducement the pack-horse was then deluded into proceeding, and we finally reached Mataveri at nine o'clock, relieved to find we had not been given up and that supper awaited us. So did we cut our last link with civilisation, and were left in mid-Pacific with statues and natives.
The next part of this story deals with the island, the conditions of life on it, and our experience during the sixteen months we were to spend there. Such scientific work as the Expedition was able to accomplish will be recounted later.
1 Captain Benson and his crew made the voyage in the ship's boat to Mangareva in sixteen days, and after two days there left in the same manner for Tahiti, accomplishing the further nine hundred miles in eleven days. Mr. Richards, the British Consul at the latter place, told us later of his astonishment, when, in answer to his question whence the crew had come, he received the amazing reply, “Easter Island." For the whole account see Captain Benson's Own Story (The James H. Barry Co., San Francisco).