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19 July, 1770

 

On 19 July, 1770, James Cook wrote “In the AM we were viseted by 10 or 11 of the natives, the most of them came from the other side of the River where we saw six or seven more the most of them women and like the men quite naked; those that came on board were very desirous of having some of our turtle and took the liberty to haul two to the gang way to put over the side, being disapointed in this they grew a little troublesome, and were for throwing every thing overboard they could lay their hands upon; as we had no victuals dress'd at this time I offer'd them some bread to eat, which they rejected with scorn as I believe they would have done any thing else excepting turtle. Soon after this they all went a shore, Mr Banks my self and five or six more of our people being a shore at the same time; emmidiatly upon their landing one of them took a handfull of dry grass and lighted it at a fire we had a shore and before we well know'd what he was going about he made a large circuit round about us and set fire to the grass on the ground in his way and in an Instant the whole place was in flames, luckily at this time we had hardly any thing ashore besides the forge and a sow with a Litter of young pigs one of which was scorched to death in the fire. As soon as they had done this they all went to a place where some of our people were washing and where all our nets and a good deal of linnen were laid out to dry, here with the greatest obstinacy they again set fire to the grass which I and some others who were present could not prevent, untill I was obliged to fire a musquet load[ed] with small shott at one of the ri[n]g leaders which sent them off. As we were apprised of this last attempt of theirs we got the fire out before it got head, but the first spread like wild fire in the woods and grass. Notwithstanding my fireing, in which one must have been a little hurt because we saw a few drops of blood on some of the linnen he had gone over, they did not go far from us for we soon after heard their voices in the woods; upon which Mr Banks and I and 3 or 4 More went to look for them and very soon met them comeing toward us. As they had each 4 or 5 darts a piece and not knowing their intention we seized upon six or seven of the first darts we met with, this alarmed them so much that they all made off and we followd them for near half a Mile and than set down and call'd to them and they stop'd also; after some little unintelligible conversation had pass'd between us they lay down their darts and came to us in a very friendly manner; we now return'd the darts we had taken from them which reconciled every thing. There were 4 strangers among them that we had not seen before and these were interduce'd to us by name by the others: the man which we suppos'd to have been struck with small shott was gone off, but he could not be much hurt as he was at a great distance when I fired. They all came along with us abreast of the ship where they stay'd a short time and then went away, and soon after set the woods on fire about a Mile and a half or two miles from us... In the PM got every thing on board the Ship, new birth'd her and let her swing with the tide. In the night the Master return'd with the Pinnace and reported that there was no safe passage for the Ship to the northward”.

 

Joseph Banks wrote “Ten Indians visited us today and brought with them a larger quantity of Lances than they had ever done before, these they laid up in a tree leaving a man and a boy to take care of them and came on board the ship. They soon let us know their errand which was by some means or other to get one of our Turtle of which we had 8 or 9 laying upon the decks. They first by signs askd for One and on being refusd shewd great marks of Resentment; one who had askd me on my refusal stamping with his foot pushd me from him with a countenance full of disdain and applyd to some one else; as however they met with no encouragement in this they laid hold of a turtle and hauld him forwards towards the side of the ship where their canoe lay. It however was soon taken from them and replacd. They nevertheless repeated the expiriment 2 or 3 times and after meeting with so many repulses all in an instant leapd into their Canoe and went ashore where I had got before them Just ready to set out plant gathering; they seizd their arms in an instant, and taking fire from under a pitch kettle which was boiling they began to set fire to the grass to windward of the few things we had left ashore with surprizing dexterity and quickness; the grass which was 4 or 5 feet high and as dry as stubble burnt with vast fury. A Tent of mine which had been put up for Tupia when he was sick was the only thing of any consequence in the way of it so I leapd into a boat to fetch some people from the ship in order to save it, and quickly returning hauld it down to the beach Just time enough. The Captn in the meantime followd the Indians to prevent their burning our Linnen and the Seine which lay on the grass just where they were gone. He had no musquet with him so soon returnd to fetch one for no threats or signs would make them desist. Mine was ashore and another loaded with shot, so we ran as fast as possible towards them and came just time enough to save the Seine by firing at an Indian who had already fird the grass in two places just to windward of it; on the shot striking him, tho he was full 40 yards from the Captn who fird, he dropd his fire and ran nimbly to his comrades who all ran off pretty fast. The Captn then loaded his musquet with a ball and fird it into the Mangroves abreast of where they ran to shew them that they were not yet out of our reach, they ran on quickning their pace on hearing the Ball and we soon lost sight of them; we then returnd to the Seine where the people who were ashore had got the fire under. We now thought we were free’d from these troublesome people but we soon heard their voices returning on which, anxious for some people who were washing that way, we ran towards them; on seeing us come with our musquets they again retird leasurely after an old man had venturd quite to us and said something which we could not understand. We followd for near a mile, then meeting with some rocks from whence we might observe their motions we sat down and they did so too about 100 yards from us. The little old man now came forward to us carrying in his hand a lance without a point. He halted several times and as he stood employd himself in collecting the moisture from under his arm pit with his finger which he every time drew through his mouth. We beckond to him to come: he then spoke to the others who all laid their lances against a tree and leaving them came forwards likewise and soon came quite to us. They had with them it seems 3 strangers who wanted to see the ship but the man who was shot at and the boy were gone, so our troop now consisted of 11. The Strangers were presented to us by name and we gave them such trinkets as we had about us; then we all proceeded towards the ship, they making signs as they came along that they would not set fire to the grass again and we distributing musquet balls among them and by our signs explaining their effect. When they came abreast of the ship they sat down but could not be prevaild upon to come on board, so after a little time we left them to their contemplations; they stayd about two hours and then departed. We had great reason to thank our good Fortune that this accident happned so late in our stay, not a week before this our powder which was put ashore when first we came in had been taken on board, and that very morning only the store tent and that in which the sick had livd were got on board. I had little Idea of the fury with which the grass burnt in this hot climate, nor of the dificulty of extinguishing it when once lighted: this accident will however be a sufficient warning for us if ever we should again pitch tents in such a climate to burn Every thing round us before we begin”.

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