HAWAII - THE RECOLLECTIONS OF JOHN NICOL

           

During the periods 1776 to 1801, John Nicol twice circled the globe, in the process visiting all six habitable continents. He was not a sailor of the rum, sodomy and the lash school. When he first went to sea, he read his Bible daily and it troubled his conscience that he lost the habit. Indeed one would have to wonder how this good and simple man mixed it with the recurrent brutality of life at sea.

This extract is from Life and Adventures 1776-1801, John Nicol, Mariner, and covered his visit to Hawaii when the murderers of Captain Cook were still young. Indeed, he was on the first ship to visit Hawaii after the death of Captain James Cook.

 

Not finding the islands, we bore away for the Sandwich Islands. The first land we made was Owhyee (Hawaii), the island where Captain Cook was killed. The King George and Queen Charlotte were the first ships which had touched there since that melancholy event.

The natives came on board in crowds and were happy to see us. They recognised Portlock and others who had been on the island before, along with Cook. Our decks were soon crowded with hogs, breadfruit, yams and potatoes. Our deck soon resembled shambles - our butcher had fourteen assistants.

 

I was busy and fatigued as I could be cutting iron hoops into lengths of eight and nine inches which the carpenter ground sharp. These were our most valuable commodity in the eyes of the natives. I was stationed down in the hold of the vessel, and the ladders were removed to prevent the natives from coming down to the treasury. The King of Owhyee looked to my occupation with a wistful eye, he thought me the happiest man on board to be among such vast heaps of treasure.

Captain Portlock called to me to place the ladder and allow the king to come down, and give him a good long piece. When the king descended he held up his hands and looked astonishment personified. When I gave him the piece of hoop of twenty inches long he retired a little from below the hatch into the shade, undid his girdle, bent the iron to his body and, adjusting his belt in the greatest haste, concealed it. I suppose he thought I had stole it. I could not but laugh to see the king concealing what he took to be stolen goods.

We were much in want of oil for our lamps. The sharks abounding, we baited a hook with a piece of salt pork and caught the largest I ever saw in any sea. It was a female, nineteen feet long. It took all hands to hoist her on board; her weight made the vessel heel. When she was cut up we took forty-eight young ones out of her belly, eighteen inches long. We saw them go into her mouth after she was hooked. The hook was fixed to a chain attached to our mainbrace, or we never would have kept her. It was evening when she snapped the bait; we hauled the head just above the surface, the swell washing over it. We let her remain thus all night and she was quite dead in the morning. There were in her stomach four hogs, four full grown turtles beside the young ones. Her liver, the only part we wanted, filled a tierce (a large cast).

Almost every man on board took a native woman for a wife while the vessel remained, the men thinking it an honour, or for their gain, as they got many presents of iron, beads or buttons. The women came on board at night and went on shore in the morning. In the evening they would call for their husbands by name. They often brought their friends to see their husbands, who were well pleased, as they were never allowed to go away empty.

The fattest woman I ever saw in my life our gunner chose for a wife. We were forced to hoist her on board. Her thighs were as thick as my waist. No hammock in the ship would hold her. Many jokes were cracked upon the pair.

They are the worst people to pronounce the English of any I ever was among. Captain Portlock they called Potipoti. The nearest approach they could make to my name was Nittie, yet they would make the greatest effort, and look so angry at themselves and vexed at their vain efforts.

We had a merry facetious fellow on board called Dickson. He sung pretty well. He squinted and the natives mimicked him. Abenoue, King of Atooi (Kauai), could cock his eye like Dickson better than any of his subjects. Abenoue called him Billicany, from his often singing "Rule Britannia". Abenoue learned the air and the words as near as he could pronounce them. It was an amusing thing to hear the king and Dickson sing. Abenoue loved him better than any man in the ship, and always embraced him every time they met on shore or in the ship, and began to sing, "Tule Billicany, Billicany, tule," etc.

We had the chief on board who killed Captain Cook for more than three weeks. He was in bad health, and had a smelling bottle with a few drops in it which he used to smell at. We filled it for him. There were a good many bayonets in possession of the natives, which they had obtained at the murder of Cook.

We left Owhyee and stood down to Atooi, where we watered and had a feast from Abenoue the King. We took our allowance of brandy on shore and spent a most pleasant afternoon, the natives doing all in their power to amuse us. The girls danced, the men made a sham fight, throwing their spears. The women, standing behind, handed the spears to the men the same as in battle, thus keeping up a continued shower of spears. No words can convey an adequate idea of their dexterity and agility. They thought we were bad with the rheumatism, our movements were so slow compared with their own. The women would sometimes lay us down and chafe and rub us, making moan and saying, "O Rume! O Rume!" They wrestled, but the stoutest man in our ship could not stand a single throw with the least chance of success.

We next stood for Onehow (Niihau), of which Abenoue was king as well as Atooi, to get yams. This island grows them in abundance, and scarce anything else. They have no wood upon the island but exchange their yams for it to build their canoes. While lying here, it came to blow a dreadful gale. We were forced to cut our cables and stand out to sea, and leave sixteen men and boys. It was three weeks before we could return. When we arrived we found them well and hearty. These kind people had lodged them two and two in their houses, gave them plenty of victuals and liberty to ramble over the whole island.

The only man who was in the least alarm for his safety was an old boatswain. He was in continual fear. The innocent natives could not meet to divert themselves, or even a few talk together, but the old sinner would shake with horror and called to his shipmates, "Now, they are going to murder us - this is our last night". He was a perfect annoyance to the others. He scarce left the beach but to go to some height to look out for the ship, and after looking till he was almost blind he would seek out the other men to make his lamentations and annoyed them with his fears of the loss of the ships or being deserted by them. 

At length we returned and took them on board, making presents to the king and his kind people for their unlimited hospitality. We now took an affectionate leave of these kind islanders.

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