THE STORY OF BLACKBIRDING
IN THE SOUTH SEAS - PART 2
Says A.T. Saunders: "Pease introduced the first 'blackbirders' into Fiji. The British Blue Books show that on 5th July 1865 he was supercargo and sailing-master of the cutter Lily, A.K. Rae, Master, licensed to convey 40 volunteer labourers form the New Hebrides to Fiji." Pease made his home in Ponape, a little island in the Caroline Archipelago, and from there sailed out to do his villainous deeds. Another yarn, which I cannot verify, states that in September 1868, after he had tarried awhile in Ponape with his dusky sweethearts, he set off for the Solomon Islands, home of the heard-hunters. A chief, to be in fashion, had to display heads of enemies in his hut as a sign of his prowess. The Water-lily dropped anchor off the isle of Florida, fired a cannon, and waited for canoes to arrive. When the canoes, full of laughing natives, were alongside, the crew of the Water-lily threw heavy stones down on them, toppling the natives in the water. As they rose to the surface they were hauled aboard by Pease's cries of cut-throats, thrown into the hold, and imprisoned. Then one by one, they were held head downward over the gunwales, and their heads were chopped off. This was repeated until there were over a hundred heads drying in the sun. Next thing was to strike a bargain with native chiefs and trade one hundred heads for fifty labourers who were later sold to plantation owners in Fiji.
Whether Pease and other blackbirders went in for head-hunting of this kind has never been proved, but such stories were widely believed at the time. This is borne out by an article in the Sydney Mornihng Herald of 31st August 1872, headed "Kidnapping in the Pacific", which states that in the House of Lords, on 24th June 1872, the Earl of Belmore asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps Her Majesty's Government intended to take to give effect to the law for the repression of criminal outrages on the natives of the islands in the Pacific Ocean. He added that four years earlier the Legislative of Queensland had passed an Act regulating the labour traffic, with the view of insuring the good treatment of natives who had agreed to become labourers for a certain time. Lord Belmore, who had been Governor of New South Wales from 1868 to 1872, then spoke of bloodthirsty kidnappers with fast vessels, who skilfully evaded the slower armed gunboats of Her Majesty's Navy. He quoted a letter, dated 24th November 1871, written by the Marquis of Normandy, governor of Queensland, who advocated bigger and faster gunboats.
Said the Marquis: "The theory of this traffic was that the white master takes on board skull-hunters from the North, who are allowed byh him to take the heads of these Southern people, whom they are ever arriving to subdue. In return for this aid the white master may take men or 'trade goods' on their return from the North. "This used to be so in New Zealand", said the Marquis, "many years ago, so that the credibility of the story was not impaired by its novelty. The matter having been placed int he hands of a very experience detective well acquainted with the labour traffic, he had reported that various means were resorted to in order to obtain possession of the natives." One of the tricks was that when canoes came to the ships to trade, the ship's boats pulled between the canoes and the shore and so prevented the natives escaping to the land.
"The detective further stated that he had been informed that it was the custom with the natives of those parts to obtain skulls of other natives as trophies of valour., The more skulls a chief obtained, the greater he was supposed to be. The only brig in the labour trade was said to be Water-lily, owned by the notorious Captain Hayes, and at present sailed by him; and from the antecedents of that man, he was considered to be capable of any atrocity." Lord John Kimberley, Secretary of State for the colonies, in his reply to the Earl of Belmore, put up a mild defence: "We must remind the noble Lord that the object of the Act was to regulate and not to entirely suppress this traffic, and that the object would be best obtained by requiring every vessel to be licensed before she engaged in it." Lord Carnarvon also spoke in the House of Lords on the subject of skull-hunting. He deeply regretted, he said, that there should be found Europeans who, "in order to facilitate their legitimate trade, encouraged natives to pursue this horrible and monstrous practice"; and he agreed that every efforts should be used to put an end to such a shameful state of things. He trusted that with the help of the china Squadron such crimes would be prevented. "The force in Australian waters consisted of six steam vessels of war, four of which, assisted by three or four sailing vessels, would be employed in preventing the kidnapping of the natives."
Because such hell was raised in the House of Lords about skull-duggery in the South Seas, the British Navy were instructed to do something. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 15th November 1873 quotes a report by Captain C.H. Simpson, of H.M.S. Blanche, who had been ordered to investigate pearl-fishing, beche-de-mer fishing, kidnapping, and skull-hunting among the South Sea Islands. Captain Simpson found "that during this year there has been no labour trade or kidnapping amongst either the Solomon, Caroline or Marshall Groups; that during the previous years there has been a large and most iniquitous kidnapping trade in the Solomon islands, and to a certain extent among the Caroline Islands, but that few natives have been taken from the Marshall Group."
Captain Simpson had grave doubts whether the natives of any of these islands would go willingly, except occasionally as part crew, with a captain they knew well. "The above, however, does not refer to the Gilbert Group, where there has been, and continues to be, an extensive labour and kidnapping trade carried on by Fijian vessels. Large numbers of the natives of these islands evidently go willingly, but many cases of kidnapping are also reported. could this be suppressed and the trade properly regulated? I am of the opinion that great advantage, both to the natives of those islands and those to which they emigrate, would be the result." The gilberts, though barren and unproductive, were thickly populated. Their inhabitant were a fine healthy race, said Captain Simpson, but infanticide was common among them to check the increase in population.
Captain Simpson now turns to "skull-hunting'. "This practice is confined to the Solomon Group, but is universally practised by the natives of all these islands. But after the closest inquiries I am of the opinion that the natives have not been assisted in these practices by white men, whether legal traders or kidnappers, as supposed to have been the case by the Reverend Mr Brooke, of the Melanesian mission at Florida." It appears that the trouble began with a native missionary teacher in Savo, who reported that a vessel called the Nukulau had been amongst these islands and had taken the heads of ninety-four natives from six islands. "On questioning this teacher closely," said Captain Simpson, "he told me he doubted the truth of his report, as the natives, his informers told much lies." Captain Simpson could find no proof of the Reverend Mr Brooke's supposition that kidnapping vessels "take on board a war party of natives and convey them among a lot of islands, killing a native here and there and taking his skull, and then on their return to their own island, a number of these natives, according to the number of skulls taken during the cruise, give themselves up to voluntary service to the kidnappers as a reward for their assistance". So the old Scottish verdict, "Not proven", must be passed on the charges of skull-hunting laid against Ben Pease.
Tom Dunbabin, in Slavers of the South Seas, gives his version of Pease's doings. According to this, Pease and Hayes, in the brig Pioneer (or Leonora), sailed into Port Lloyd in the Bonin Islands on St George's Day, 23rd April 1869. Pease "played the part of a gentleman with large but vague interests in various parts of the Pacific". He claimed to be the owner of the Pioneer, and Hayes the master. Pease persuaded Thomas Webb, one of the most substantial settlers on this remote group, that he had in his gift a profitable post as Superintendent of saw-mills to be set up on the island of Ascension. Webb placed all his stock at the disposal of the plausible Pease and shipped with his family on the Pioneer. Pease landed Webb and his family on the island of Ascension, and sailed away, stating that he had to hasten on his cruise. Webb found there was a sawmill on Ascension, but that Pease had no more to do with it than the man in the moon, and that there was no vacancy for a superintendent. "Like his associate, Hayes," says Dunbabin, "Pease had a habit of marrying." His latest wife at this time was Susan Robinson. A Bonin Islander who saw her at the end of the honeymoon trip wrote: "Susan is well but not contented, for Captain Pease carried two native women besides her on the vessel." Tom Dunbabin continues: "Mrs Susan Pease had been one of the heroines of a strange story in which blackbirding and murder were mixed in a Bonins feud. Her father, George Robinson, had left a whaler at the Bonins and had settled on the South Island where he had cleared a good deal of land." After eight years on this lonely island, Robinson took his family, including Susan, to Guam and Saipan in the Ladrones. Three years later he returned, bringing some natives from the Kingsmill Islands whom he proposed to employ on his farm.
Alas, he found his land in the possession of James Mutley, who had come to the Bonins in 1846. Mutley refused to give it up. Worse still, the Kingsmill natives left Robinson and joined Mutley. But an ex-whaler named Bob left Mutley and joined the Robinson party. One day in 1860 the Kingsmill Islanders attacked Bob and Robinson. Bob fought bravely for a time by getting in a cleft amongst the rocks. Finally the kanakas overpowered and killed him, savagely mutilating the body. Robinson fled into the bush with three of his six children. These children were Caroline, aged nineteen, Susan, and a boy Charles. With them was their old nurse, a woman from the Raven Islands, called Hypa. "They crossed the island and stayed there for seven months hiding in the bush and living on shell-fish and berries. They were then found and taken to Port Lloyd by the master of a whaling vessel, Captain William Marsh." Thomas Webb, the settler whom Pease later cheated, took them in, and later married Caroline. Susan, after he unhappy marriage to Benjamin Pease, came back to the Bonins and survived Pease by thirty years, dying in 1912. Hypa, the Raven Island nurse, died in 1897, at the reputed age of 112. At her express wish she was baptized before her death.
According to tom Dunbabin's account, "Ben Pease paid further visits to the Bonin Islands and settled there in the intervals of more exciting episodes such as blackbirding, stealing a schooner from a Frenchman, stealing whale oil and standing trial at Shanghai for the murder of Mr Cooper - a charge on which he was acquitted." It is not certain whether Pease's headquarters were at the Bonins or at Ponape when he came to the rescue of his old mate Hayes at Apia in 1870. According to the Daily Mirror article on Pease already quoted, "In Ponape after his victorious headhunting, kidnapping orgy, Pease heard that bully Hayes was imprisoned in Apia."
Listen to what happened!
"Flying the Stars and Stripes, Pease sailed into the harbour at Apia. Bursting into prison with his men, the guard was butchered and Hayes was released." The true story I have already told ... Hayes was put on parole by consul Williams, and when Pease arrived at Apia on the Pioneer, Hayes went on board on the pretext of checking a faulty chronometer. The Pioneer then sailed away, on April Fool's Day, 1870. Nothing positive is known of the movements of the Pioneer immediately after he left Apia. She was owned by a firm of traders, Glover, Dow and Company, who had headquarters at Shanghai. Pease carried trade goods from Shanghai to the Pacific Island, and returned with barrels of coconut oil or copra, to be sold at Shanghai for re-export to Europe. The brig's armament, which Consul Williams mentions as an excuse for his own failure to stop Hayes escaping, was necessary for defence against the pirates who infested the China Seas. Pease could also have needed it for defence against his fellow-traders of the Line Islands, many of whom were deserters from Nantucket whaling ships, and escaped convicts from New Caledonia or Norfolk Island.
If the stories about him are true, however, Pease did not use arms merely in self-defence, but in forcibly abducing men to work in slave conditions on the Gilbert, Caroline and Marshall Islands. It was also said that he was in the habit of taking coconut oil and copra at gunpoint from natives on lonely islands. It so, he was a buccaneer, and some of his reputation no doubt became attached to Bully Hayes through their association. Tom Dunbabin has a story that the Pioneer, after leaving Apia, visited Savage Island, where Pease, by means of a forged order, obtained cotton and coconut fibre to the value of 300 pounds, the property of J. and T. Skinner of Sydney. "After this robbery the two rascals called at Savaii in Samoa, where they obtained 3000 yams from a British trader, and left without paying fort the. The stolen goods seem to have been sold in Fiji." The Leonora, alias the Pioneer, turned up in shanghai with both Hayes and Pease on board. "Within ten days Pease was in prison, charged with murder." The author fails to give particulars of this crime, perhaps it was the murder of Mr Cooper; which he mentions elsewhere.
His story resumes: "Hayes fitted the Leonora for sea. He paid only one bill, that for the spare main yard. Then he sailed along the China Coast, levying blackmail on the villages as he went. In Saigon, he was chartered to carry a cargo of rice to Hong Kong. At one port, the owner of the rice went ashore on business, and Hayes made sail, leaving the owner behind. Hayes now headed for Bangkok and sold the rice on his own account. A steamer with the owner of the rice on board arrived in Bangkok just after Hayes had gone. In the course Hayes drifted back to Samoa where he was again arrested." Tom Dunbabin does not disclose the sources of these stories. some are probably based on yarns that had appeared in the Sydney bulletin of the 1890s, written by Louis Becke, who claimed to have sailed with Hayes. With characters like these, it is difficult to prove anything. I can only set down the various stories, and if the contradict one another readers must make their own choice.
Another legend has it that several months after bully's escape from Apia the Pioneer was at the Bonin Islands, and there Cap'n Pease was arrested for a murder. Arrangements were made to send him to America for trial, but he never reached his native land. It is said that he jumped - or was thrown - overboard from the vessel in which he was being conveyed to San Francisco, and that he was left to drown in mid-ocean. There are at least, two other stories of Pease's death. According to Dunbabin, the end came in 1881 when Pease was master of the Lotus trading in the Marshall Islands. "When the Lotus was on her way from Jaluit to Ebon in the Marshall Islands, the kanaka crew mutinied and threw Pease overboard, no doubt for good reasons. The schooner was making little way and Pease started to swim after her, calling to the kanakas to pick him up. The kanakas threw Pease's sea-chest overboard and told him to go back to Jaluit on it."
The Daily Mirror article of 23rd June 1958, gives yet another story. it tells how a blood-stained canoe bobbed ashore on the island of Ponape, in the Caroline Group, one October morning in 1874. The canoe contained a torn sailor's cap, and a rusty rifle. A native took the relics to the chief, and within minutes "the island was aflame with the news that the cap and rifle belonged to Captain Ben Pease, cruellest ruffian, cut-throat, and pirate in the Pacific. Whether or not Ben Pease died i the canoe is a mystery that has puzzled historians." One thing that emerges from these stories is that the blackbirders were not having it all their own way. Unfortunately the revenge taken was apt to fall on the innocent as well as the guilty, as the deaths of Commodore Goodenough and Bishop Patteson show. Whatever the date and the manner of Pease's death, it seems that by 1872 Hayes was in possession of the Pioneer. Having lost Pease somewhere on the way, he sailed her to Shanghai, where he found that her owners, Glover, Dow and Company were on the verge of bankruptcy. Hayes promptly put in a big claim against them for his salary and other expenses he said he had incurred in repairing the Pioneer.
In satisfaction of this claim, plus a small down payment in cash, the brig was handed over to Hayes. He renamed her the Leonora, in honour of one of his twin daughters whom he had left with his wife at Apia. Once again bully Hayes was the owner and master of a vessel, acquired by a slick trick, but not piratically. He made a few voyages in the Leonora in the rice trade from Saigon and Bangkok to Hong Kong. In 1872 he was engaged by the liquidators of Glover, Dow and Company, to visit and wind up their trading stations in the Line Islands. It may be believed that Bully wound up the stations for his own financial benefit. He collected traders and coconut oil from several islands, but, instead of returning to Shanghai, he sailed to Apia to sell the produce to the German firm of Godeffroy and Company of Hamburg. Hayes arrived at Apia early in February 1872. This was a hold reappearance in the port from which he had vamoosed twenty-two months previously, after breaking his parole; but the Leonora was under the American flag, and Hayes left confident that the British Consul would not dare to re-arrest him.
After selling the oil and copra, the Bully Cap'n refused to deliver it to Godeffroy's until they paid him on additional 2500 pounds freight. Whether this was extortion, or justifiable business, the demand infuriated Godeffroy's manager, Theodor Weber, who vowed vengeance. While the Leonora was lying at Apia, a corvette of the United States Navy, the Narragansett, was at Pago Pago, in Eastern Samoa eighty miles from Apia. Commander Richard W. Meade was visiting Pago Pago to negotiate a commercial treaty with Manga, the chief of Tutuila Island. The treaty guaranteed the chief's protection of foreign traders in return for payment of harbour dues. This visit led to the concession granted to the United States six years later to establish a naval station at Pago Pago, and eventually to the annexation of Eastern Samoa by the United States in 1900. Word was sent secretly by schooner from Apia to Commander Meade that the notorious Captain Hayes, an American citizen, in a brig flying the American flag, was lying at Apia, and that Captain Hayes had been ill-treating natives in the Line Islands. Whether this information was sent to Meade by missionaries at Apia or by Thoedor Weber is not known.
Commander Meade interrupted his negotiations with Chief Manga at Pago Pago, hove up the anchor,a ndd steamed at full speed to Apia. He entered the harbour, ranged alongside the Leonora, arrested the brig and Captain Hayes, and brought Hayes on board the Narragansett to answer the charges laid against him. The inquiry continued for three days. The official result is recorded in two terse entries in the log-book of the Narragansett, preserved in the United States Navy Department Library:
"18th February 1872. At 9 o'clock., boarded and took temporary possession of the American brig Leonora. Captain W.H. Hayes was brought on board and retained on suspicion, as having been engaged in unlawful acts in the Micronesian Islands and other islands.
"21st February 1872. Investigation in the case of the brig Leonora having been completed, Captain Hayes was allowed to resume his command of her."
There have been many attempted explanations of the acquittal of bully Hayes when the supposed notorious pirate was actually a prisoner in an American warship for three days. His brig was searched from stern to stern and truck to keelson, he and his crew were carefully questioned, and evidence taken from anyone at Apia who cared to testify. The explanation of his acquittal is simply that the charges against him were not supported by any evidence that would have justified punitive action by Commander Meade.