top

KIRIBATI

KIRIBATI AND BULLY HAYES

           

During his travels throughout Oceania, Bully Hayes frequented many of the islands of Kiribati including Ocean Island (Banaba) although at that time phosphate was undreamt of. Banaba was described as being inhabited by the same race as Pleasant Island. It was said to be circular in form, ten to eleven miles in circumference, high in the centre, and steep all round, with no harbour for anchorage. Its 20 foot cliffs were scarcely approachable on the north side, however, on the south side there were level sandy beaches. The island was said to have gained its name from the ship Ocean which discovered it in 1804.

The white men on Ocean Island, at that time, were said to be "the same breed o' dog" as those on Pleasant Island. In 1845, there were seventeen white men living there, ten of whom were runaway convicts. In spite of rum and sour toddy, there were still sixteen of them alive in 1850, but only two were left in 1873. One of these was a fierce ex-convict named Bob Ridley, a man well over seventy years of age, tattooed like a native, as brown as a berry, and wrinkled like an old monkey. Although he had a number of wives, children and grandchildren, Bob Ridley was reported to be an anti-social loner. He spent much of his time sitting silent, solitary and saturnine, a prey to his terrible memory.

The second white man, Harry Terry, was vastly different being a jovial, gin-loving sailor who had jumped ship more than fifty years previous succumbing to the attractions of the island belles. He was a white-haired father of a large half-caste family. He was said to be a thoroughly decent old fellow who always did his best to maintain law and order, and to keep both the white man and the locals from flying at each other during their mad drinking bouts.

Besides loading oil at Ocean Island, Bully Hayes did a bit of labour recruiting and succeeded in engaging 27 of the natives on behalf of a German firm at Ponape (Pohnpei).

The Leonora's next port of call was Tabiteuea or Drummond Island in the Gilbert Group. This mixture of islets and reefs was said to be the thickest populated island of the group, having between 7,000 and 8,000 souls. Like the locals of Pleasant and Ocean Islands, the Drummond Islanders had gained a name throughout the Pacific for treachery against visiting ships. This also was probably due to the bad influence of the white traders.

The worst of these renegade white men was a ruffian named James Garstang, who had been brought from Ponape and installed there by Bully Hayes. Garstang used his pistol at the least provocation and cared nothing for the treacherous reputation possessed by the locals.

The chief of Utiroa, a man named Tabirau, in exchange for the usual amount of trade, handed over one of his daughters to the white man for a wife. The girl quickly came running home saying that Jim had beaten her for spoiling a razor. In the aftermath, Jim Garstang shot the chief and then used the butt of his rifle to club the girl to death.

This atrocious action set him up in the dead chief's place and he ruled the fierce Drummond Islanders with a rod of iron. News, however, reached Bully Hayes that this trader had sold the coconut oil which had been prepared for the Leonora to a Californian vessel and Bully Hayes was determined to settle the score with him according to the usual custom of the South Seas.

The Leonora came to the island at night time and did not anchor at the usual place but lay off and on opposite the village of Utiroa until daylight. As soon as the sun came up, Bully Hayes went ashore in the longboat, well loaded down with trade, consisting almost entirely of gin, rum, rifles and ammunition.

As he approached the shore, a crowd of armed locals numbering close to 500 began to assemble. Many of these were wearing their armour made out of fibre with helmets made from the skin of the porcupine fish on their heads. The longboat was run up on the beach by her crew, and Bully Hayes stepped ashore in the face of a line of rifle muzzles. Bully Hayes continued talking in his suavest manner to those chiefs that he recognized and gradually the ferocious scowls left the faces in front of him. Presently, he called for a couple of mustards and a box of tobacco from the longboat as a present for the two chiefs, who now shook hands. Presently, Hayes was escorted to the house of Jim Garstang, whereupon Hayes called for the trader to come on out and show himself.

Jim Garstang approached Hayes who extended his hand to him. The trader also put out his hand, but before he could speak, Hayes seized him by the throat, shook him like a rat, spun him around and flung him head first against the stern of a canoe. Jim Garstang lay where he dropped, half-stunned. The locals gave out a loud roar and Bully Hayes put up his hand for silence and told the chiefs how he had been robbed, and that he intended to take the trade away after giving them some presents.

Garstang came to his senses and fearing that things were lost, he appealed to the natives for support. At this time, Bully Hayes offered to fight him to see which was the better man and that if Jim won, he would let him have his trade back.

A firm level piece of beach was selected for the fight and it was expected that the man who got in the first knock-out blow would win the fight. The first knock-out blow was that of Bully Hayes and Jim went down with a closed eye and his cheek cut open to the bone. Immediately, the trader's women flung themselves upon him to prevent him from rising to his feet. Jim Garstang was beside himself with rage and called Bully Hayes every name he could think of, but then suddenly he stopped, let out a growl like an angry lion, and turned sullenly away. Hayes sprang upon him, seized him by the throat and nearly strangled him. As soon as he recovered a bit, Hayes ordered him to be carried down to the boat.

Inside the house, seven hundred dollars in United States coin were found which was the money given to Jim by the skipper of a Californian trader. In addition, twenty casts of oil were rafted off to the Leonora. Jim Garstang's place was taken by a Rotuma Islander who was one of the crew of the Leonora. The Rotuma man's name was Willie and he was provided with a wife as part of the deal. He later married the lady in Fiji and it was understood that they had a large number of children.

Bully Hayes, was not one of those men who harboured malice and he speedily made up with the huge North countryman, Jim Garstang, whom he then set up as a trader on Nukulaelae or Mitchell Island.       

Banaba Home Page

Kiribati Home Page

Stories of Bully Hayes And Others

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

Jane Resture's Oceania Page

Jane's Oceania Travel Page

(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 26th December 2008)