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OCEANIA

The Trading Voyages of Andrew Cheyne

 

Andrew Cheyne was born in Northmavine, Shetland Islands, in 1817, the illegitimate son of James Cheyne and Elizabeth Robertson. James was the youngest brother of John Cheyne, the laid of Tangwick, Northmavine. The Cheynes were considerable landowners and also carried on a regular fishing business, exporting cured cod and ling to the Continent. They had a good reputation amongst their fishing tenants, being helpful "in various ways not typical of landlords of the day.

 

Andrew was accepted into the family and grew up under the guidance of his uncle John as a member of the Cheyne household. Nor record of his schooling has yet come to light, but if Andrew went to the parish school he would have learned reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, bookkeeping, and navigational He was possibly tutored privately by the local Presbyterian minister, as was common for a laird's son; at this time the minister of the local parish was the Reverend William Watson, whose daughter Andrew was later to marry. The Cheynes' fishing tenants would land their fish at Tangwick, where it was cleaned and dried and, when ready, loaded on to a ship which tool it to the Continent - a pattern of labour which Andrew was to try to repeat many years later, when he was engaged in beche-de-mer grading in the Pacific islands. It seems very likely that, as local tradition has it young Andrew first went to sea in one of the family's three ships. It is not known what sent him to the Antipodes as a young man, although it may be conjectured that it had something to do with the death, in 1840, of his uncle John, who left him the sum of fifteen pounds sterling with which to begin making his own fortune.

Cheyne's name first appeared in the shipping columns of the Sydney newspapers when he sailed from Sydney for the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, as master of the brig Bee, on 25 September 1840. In February 1841 he returned as 'passenger' (probably supercargo) of the brig Diana of 204 tons, under the direction of Sydney agent Ranulph Dacre. Two months later, at the end of April 1842, the London Missionary Society brig Camden put into Sydney, after a South Seas voyage from Samoa westwards through Melanesia, where she had left Polynesian teachers at islands barely known to Europeans - at Eromanga, Tana, Futuna, Aniwa, and Aneityum in the New Hebrides, and at the Isle of Pines, the small island at the southern tip of New Caledonia. The missionaries had noted the growth of the valuable sandalwood on the Isle of Pines, but, if they did not deliberately repress the information, at least did not publicize it at Sydney. Nevertheless one of the Camden's crew, Edward Foxall, put it to profitable use; he approached a group of Sydney merchants - Ranulph Dacre, Henry Elgar, and Richard Jones - and arranged with them to pilot an expedition to the Isle of Pines for the purpose of cutting a cargo of the valuable wood and shipping it to the East. The brigs Orwell and Diana were fitted out, ostensibly for Kamchatka and New Guinea respectively, and given to Captain Hughes and Watson to command. To superintend the whole venture, Cheyne was chosen as supercargo. In china he was supposed to sell not only the cargo but one of the ships, the Diana

It was no small responsibility to have charge of the prosecution of the owners' business with the sharp merchants of the Chinese ports, as well as the two ships and their property and the management of two crews of colonial seamen among South Sea islanders of unknown disposition. That these hard-bitten Sydney merchants were prepared to trust so much to a man not yet twenty-four years old is eloquent testimony to his alert and responsible bearing. It is also telling evidence of the courage and ambition of the young man who offered himself for such a service. The journal printed here begins with this voyage, starting from Sydney on 7 August 1841. The voyage was one of the earliest in a new phase of sandalwood-seeking in the south-west Pacific.

When it was realized, early in the nineteenth century, that the precious wood, so greatly prized for incense-burning in Buddhist communities, was to be found in some of the newly-discovered Pacific Islands, a promising speculation opened up among the itinerant trading ships of the south seas, first in Fiji, then in the Marquesas, then in Hawaii, then in the Austral Islands, and finally in the New Hebridean (Vanuatu) and New Caledonian groups. The quality of the island wood was generally inferior to that of Indian wood and consequently fetched a lower price in china, but it could be cheaply bought and many adventurers were lured to seek it by the prospect, often illusory, of quick fortunes.

As in Fiji thirty years before, the traders seeking sandalwood brought about the earliest regular interchange between Melanesians and Europeans in the New Hebrides. Although the groups had been visited by explorers and whalers, the traders' relations with the southern islands formed the first chapter in the history of intensive contact in the region. The best wood was found on Eromanga, but Efate and Aneityum contributed their small share, while the fertile island of Tana became a supplier of food and labour to the traders. Stations for collecting and preparing the wood were formed at first on Aneityum, but later on all the southern islands. Espiritu Santo was the only northern island from which sandalwood was exported in commercial quantities, and that not until after the middle of the century.

Although the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) had been visited by ships seeking sandalwood in 1823 and in 1829-30, for a number of reasons the trade had not been pursued vigorously until the forties. Its revival and development into part of a regular trading route in southern Melanesia had been largely due to the discovery of the wood in the Isle of Pines. This discovery had led to other finds in the New Caledonian group - in all of the three major islands in the Loyalties, and on the mainland of New Caledonia itself. 

With a certain supply in these neighboring islands it proved worthwhile to include the New Hebrides in a round trip. This made the trade less of an all-or-nothing affair; if wood for some reason could not be had in one of these islands it could possibly be had in another; if only a small amount could be taken at one place, it was possible to complete the cargo at others. Thus, a regular beat developed in the region and with it a familiar pattern of exchange, a standard (but not static) rice, and a lingua franca, 'sandalwood English', one of the progenitors of pidgin. The trade declined to vanishing point in the late sixties, as the stands of sandalwood were diminished beyond the hope of an efficient return on outlay or were even, in some places, completely cut out.

On this first voyage to the Isle of Pines, however, Chine's expedition had no need to go further a field, for it reaped the reward of the first comer, and the holds of both ships were filled in a short time at little expense. There were risks as well as rewards. But this voyage of 1841 was the first recorded European trading expedition to land at the Isle of Pines, and indeed was among the earliest of European contacts with the people of this island.

Captain Cook named the island on 1774, but did not land there. After the settlement of New South Wales in 1788 it is also very likely that, having left their human cargo or supplies of victuals at the penal colony, convict transports and East India Company ships, in experimental and unrecorded passages to the East in search of a return cargo, saw the pine-lined shores of the island. They were certainly seen by Captain Hunter in the Waaksamheyd in April 1701, although he was far too concerned with keeping his ship from grounding on the south-western reef to do anything but locate the island. At least one ship, however, the Atlantic, in 1791, made an attempt to land there to cut spars, but the crew were so effectually opposed by the natives that they gave it up.

The first known European to land on the Isle of Pines was Samuel Henry, a Tahitian-born trader and son of the L.M.S. missionary William Henry. He appears to have repairs to his Williams intended to call at the island on his westward voyage from Samoa in 1839, but he was Murdered in the New Hebrides before he reached New Caledonian waters. In his wake the L.M.S. made two visits to the island, in 1840 and 1841, both of only a few days' duration, and each time they left Samoan catechists with the chief. Apart from the brief observations in the missionaries' journals, therefore, the account of the Isle of Pines and its inhabitants given in Cheyne's journal is the first on record.

A situation such at this, involving contact between peoples chasms apart in culture and each previously barely aware of the existence of the other, is relatively rare in human history and one which well repays close study. Any good description of its day-to-day transactions and encounters, in the very earliest stages, would alone be enough to make it a document of value to the student of human behavior. To the present writer, an intelligent trader's description has merit even above this, as a consequence of his need to establish a practical relationship of barter with the people. The trader was forced to shed his ethnic skin to the extent of discovering what the islanders wanted, rather than what he thought they ought to want, for on this the success of his business depended. Again, although he might confide his disapproval to his journal, by the nature of his business he was obliged at least to refrain from interference with local usages and sometimes to conform to them. For both reasons he was often in a better position than many other Europeans to give a realistic account of the people with whom he traded. At the Isle of Pines, as Cheyne explains, he had some help in communication from the outset since he could speak to the Samoan catechists, who had lived on the island for a year, though his pilot Foxall, who spoke Samoan. By the end of his first ten-week stay, however, the captain had acquired his own small store of the Isle of Pines (Kunie) language.

Cheyne's account of the Isle of Pines shows that he mad the most of his advantages in observing and recording the life of the society. The account is considered by Professor Jean Guiart, a noted ethnologist of he area, to provide such an intelligent and accurate account of known ethnography that it can be regarded as a reliable source of data hitherto lost to eh contemporary student. An interesting example of this is his description of the canoes, for recent scholarly interest in the migrations of the Pacific has directed much attention to this aspect of Melanesian technology, but reference to the standard work on the subject shows that there is almost nothing known of the indigenous canoe of the Isle of Pines. The excellent descriptions provided in this journal, complete with drawing and observations by a professional sailor of the manner in which the canoe was sailed, effectively fills the gap. 

On the voyage the journal, through in narrative of the day's business, introduces among the Melanesian people. Throughout there is a lively feeling of he dependence on the goodwill of the local population for survival and success, and the two occasions on which the trading party give offence caused the captain grave anxiety until he was able to make proper restitution. As I have argued at length elsewhere, the conventional historical view of the white men as all-powerful masters among the Melanesians was one which, with reason, the traders themselves did not share. They found the islanders as acquisitive and a as adept in sharp practice as any crafty merchant of Europe or China.

Although on this expedition a full cargo was procured with no serious mishap, the voyage was a financial failure both for the owners and for the captain, whom he former succeeded in cheating of this bonus. Embittered by his hard treatment he dismissed the Sydney merchants as a lot of rogues and had no further dealings with them. In the subsequent voyages described blow he held his own share in the ventures, with the bulk of the capital subscribed by British merchants in China.

The second voyage, in the Bull in 1842, was also principally to Melanesia for sandalwood. As it turned out it centered largely on the Loyalty Islands, never sighted by Cook and even less known to European than the Isle of Pines. The L.M.S. had left two Samoan catechists at Mare, the southernmost island, in the previous year, but sandalwood traders from Sydney were the earliest recorded visitors to Lifu and Uvea. Cheyne's careful record of his experiences and observations in the Loyalties and, to a lesser extent, at Balade, New Caledonia, is therefore again of unusual interest and importance.

On the return voyage to China in the Bull, Cheyne put in at 'Ascension' Island or Ponape, the relatively large volcanic island in the eastern Carolines. This was his introduction to Micronesia altogether a  most fateful event. Impressed both by the visible wealth in acres of beche-de-mer and he potential wealth as the site of a trading and whaling centre, the captain was to spend may years in the pursuit of his own private empire in the Caroline Islands, a vision for which he paid with his life.

The pattern of European contact in the north-western Pacific had been very different from that further north. Acquaintance with the vari9ous groups in the Carolines had begun two centuries earlier than with any of the sandalwood islands of southern Melanesia, except for Quiros's expedition to Espiritu Santo. When in the second half of the sixteenth century thee was an established Spanish empire on both sides of the Pacific, in central America in the east and the Philippines in the west, many of the Caroline Islands became known to the crews of the Spanish galleons on the long trip from Acapulco to Manila, but the Spanish appear to have taken little interest in these new discoveries. At all events no written record of a Spanish contact with the peoples has been found, save those of attempts to evangelise two small islands in the first half of the eighteenth century. Caroline Islanders who has drifted to the Marianas had aroused the curiosity of Jesuit fathers, who had become filled with concern for the salvation of these strange people. The two missionary expeditions - one to Sonsorol in 1710, and one to Ulithi in 1731 - were short-lived and disastrous, resulting in the disappearance of all the missionaries. No other attempt to contact these people appears to have been made by the Spanish and although the galleon route was followed by explorers and buccaneers of other nationalities, in the middle of the eighteenth century almost as little was known of the region as of any in the South Pacific.

From a European point of view, therefore, intensive contact with the Caroline Islands began, as elsewhere, with the outburst of private maritime activity in the Pacific, chiefly British and American, of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. On the other hand, the long familiarity of the Caroline Islanders with the sight of sailing ships, their acquaintance with European artifacts (from isolated contacts, castaways, or wrecks of ships), and the hearsay, that travelled about their own trade routes - particularly from the Marianas, which most appear to have known - surely gave these people a footing from which to deal with the European invasion when it occurred. This offers a contrast with those Melanesians who interpreted the arrival of the white man as a return of the spirits of their ancestors. As in Melanesia, there would, of course, have remained islands and parts of islands innocent of all external influence even up to the middle of the 19th century. 

Within the modern period, however, the history of contact in Micronesia was again earlier and more intensive on the whole than in Melanesia. From the time of the wreck of the East India vessel Antelope near Koror in the Palaus in 1783, the Carolines were frequently visited by traders in search of tropical produce and above all by whalers from the northern Pacific whaling grounds, seeking ports for refuelling, rest and refreshment. By the time of Cheyne's first visit to Ponape at the end of 1842 the local inhabitants and Europeans were, for good or ill, very well known to each other.

Although the island did not become known to sailor until much later than the Palau group (probably and until the mid-twenties) Ponape took only ten years to become a favourite port of call of the northern Pacific whaler. Traders were also attracted in increasing numbers by the tortoiseshell and beche-de-mer which abounded in the region. The Europeans found the people attractive and, since food, rest, and sexual satisfaction were here easily procurable, the number of deserters from visiting ships gradually grew. The island offered an easier life to sailors than they could ever have hoped to enjoy in their native land, and to runaway convicts, heaven instead of hell. When Commander Blake visited Ponape in H.M.S. Larne early in 1839, there was already a well-established colony of upwards of thirty white men there. Two years later, when Captain T.B. Simpson paid a visit, there were 'about fifty', and the island had become notorious as a rogues' paradise, for that reason, Ponape began to become as forbidding on ships as it had once been attractive.

Cheyne's journal does not therefore belong to the records of the earliest contacts in Micronesia, as it does in southern Melanesia. Luke's brief description of the Ponapeans who came to the Senyavin was followed by the published abboutn of the beachcomber, James O'Connell. An account by one Mr. Campbell was published in the Sydney Colonist of 23 June 1836 and reprinted in The Polynesian of 11 July 1840. The expedition of H.M.S. Larne in 1839 produced more observation on the island, some of which were reproduced in the Nautical Magazine for 1845. Simpson's report appeared in the Sydney Shipping Gazette, and was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald in the same year. There are no doubt other accounts of the island hidden away in ships' logs and sailors' diaries.

Cheyne's own record of his first stay on Ponape in 1843 is none the less an important source. Sufficiently early in the history of contact to reflect faithfully, the indigenous society, Cheyne's account is wide-ranging and meticulous as well., It includes an outline of Ponapean life, customs and social structure, and one of the earliest reliable descriptions of the famous ruins of Nanmatol (Nan Madol). As only a non-official account can, it gives an eyeball to eyeball picture of the beachcombing community which had established a tight monopoly over the trade with European ships. No one but a free-lancing trader or whaler could meet deserters and runaway convicts on their own terms, as Cheyne did, employ them in isolated or dangerous areas, or become the confidant or the object isolated or dangerous areas, or become the confidant or the object of their murder plots. Other traders are seen, it is true, as rivals as well as brothers, but the professional detail with which their movements ane their catch or cargo are reported, along with their talk - the latest in Pacific islands fears, gossip, and misinformation - makes this worthwhile.

Cheyne had become familiar with something of the history of Europeans in Ponape before his arrival. His allusion to the two Englishmen who 'discovered' Ponape is possibly to O'Connell and Keenan, as described in O'Connell's narrative. The captain was aware that the island and for some years been annually visited by whalers from the north-eastern cruising grounds. He did not, however, seem to know of the Lampton affair of 2836, when in concert with the masters of two other private vessels, Captain Hart of the Sydney trader Lambton hanged a Ponape chief with gruesome ceremony in vengeance for an attack on the whaler Falcon. Cheyne's failure to mention this is the more surprising in the light of his reference to H.M.S. Larne at Ponape in 1839, since the Larne's sole object in visiting the island was to investigation of this incident. Captain Simpson's voyage may have been known already to Cheyne through his contacts in China; and though he would not have been able to read Simpson's account in the Sydney newspapers before the time of his first visit, hje had no doubt done so before this journal was revised.

 

After despatching the Bull to complete her journey to China at the end of December 1842, Cheyne remained at the Ponape for five months, bewitched by a scheme for a multi-purpose settlement on the islands. His plan was to provide a safe haven for whalers, where water, fuel, provisions, and repairs might be had at a moderate price, as well as making it the central depot of his own trade in beche-de-mer, tortoiseshell, and other reef produce. The scheme was very like the one successfully begun by James Paddon at Aneityum in the New Hebrides a year later, but Paddon had no organised opposition to contend with. The extraordinary paradox of Andrew Cheyne, the man, becomes evident for the first time as he unfolds his plans for an island emp0ire. This project had every element of rationality, but like many another planner under the spell of neat logic he was blind to the power of the irrational object which obstructed the path of improvements and refused to be willed away. His courage in cocking a snoot at the rogues' ring on Ponape was admirable, but his belief that he had any chance of breaking it showed a lamentable gap in the imagination, for the opponents he took on had more to defend than a profitable monopoly. The captain's attempt to secure the intervention of the authorities at China was for him only an obvious measure of law and order, built for the island vagrants it meant at the very least facing charges of desertion and for some, such as mutineers, murderers, and runaway convicts )all of whom were represented), it meant certain death. The light way in which he assumes the necessity of getting officialdom on his side, that he is the man, single-handed, to purge the temple, and that reason and virtue must inevitably triumph over sin and chaos, is not only priggish but also unbelievably naive. He behaves like a character from the Boys' Own Paper instead of a hard-headed sea captain. He was, of course, still very young (twenty-five), but it is strange to see some of the more fanciful of the fallacies of armchair imperialism being taken so seriously by a practical empire-builder. The notion, for example, hat the British Crown would gladly lend itself to the aid of loyal sons in a just cause in remote and unprofitable islands he assumed as a matter of course, and it seems also to have survived the polite indifference of the consular officials in China whose aid he sought.

My May 1843, however, Cheyne had almost admitted total defeat for his Ponape project. The crowning blow was the arrival of the Wave sent down by the merchants in China, who seem to have been as incompetent as his Sydney owners had been unscrupulous, for the ship was full of goods quite unsuitable for trade at Ponape, and the profits of the Bull voyage wee at one stroke wiped out.

Once one has become involved in an unsuccessful speculation, the hope of retrieving one's losses by another venture is as viable as alternative as retiring in loss and disgrace, and much more an alternative as retiring in loss and disgrace, and much more attractive. In China, Cheyne organized a third voyage, this time in the brig Naiad, a vessel in which he had a fourth share, in June 1843. It was to be a yeaar-long venture, aimed at establishing a network of depots for tropical produce throughout the Caroline Islands and any other groups in the western Pacific which seemed to hold possibilities of development. In the course of this voyage, he visited not only Ponape but also the Palau, Yap, Ngulu and Pakin in the Carolines, and farther south New Georgia, Simbo, Tauu and Sikaiana in the Solomons group. Of these new islands, only the Palaus were much known to the world - through the account of Captain Wilson and the crew of the East Indiaman Antelope and the supplementary accounts of others. Cheyne himself was familiar with these accounts and was also aware that Palau waters had regularly been fished for beche-de-mer for ten years before his arrival in 1843. He knew, as well, that the other small clusters had already been visited by traders and whalers although he was probably right in believing that his contact with Yap was a relatively early one. His observations at these islands are of a piece with those in earlier chapters - intelligent and painstaking. The route he took through the Solomons was a beaten track of whalers, as is well known from other sources as well as his own remarks. He accounts of the people he met in the New Georgian group, although brief, are among the earliest reliable ones known.

The plan of the third voyage was rational to a high degree, but foredoomed to failure, for once again its author made no allowances for human difficulties.. Being unwilling to have his vessel idle at Koror, his headquarters in the Palau Islands, while the gathering and curing of bech-de-mer was going ton, he left this and other stations in the hands of crew members and beachcombers while he went to search out new fields. Cheyne's delegation of resonsibility was a course more fraught with hazard in the pacific Queen than anywhere else, for these islands had become a refuge for Europeans who could not abide the strait-jacket of their own societyk and nowhere in the world could one have found a collection of men so uniormly unreliable, whatever other virtues they might have possessed. He should have learnt from this experience that fconstant supervision that a man prepared to live at the north-eastern end of Yap, and among the natiges of the Pakin group, the small islands 21 miles off the north-west cfoat of Ponape, far from his comrades and the protection of the ship, was unlikely to be a sober, god-fearing citizen. One has to admire the captain for not upbraiding such a man for his alcoholic sprees for the effort of keeping silent must have indeed been a painful one to a man not tolerant by nnature. It is therefore puzzling that he nevertheless continued to try and found his empire on such shifting sands. It seems that the possible prize was so glittering that it blinded his appraisal of th4 tools to hand. The voyage collapsed in failure and considerable financial loss as one afte the other his deputies were found to have disobeyed his orders, cheated him and idled away his resources.

 

The fourth voyage, also in the Naiad, began in Macao in June 1844. When the narrative ends, he has been out only three months, but we know from the chapter heads that after gbeginning from the western Carolines he had gone east to Eauripk, Woleai, and Ifalik in the vicinity of Yap, and then on the Ttruk group, but with what success we do not know. Judging from his general comment on the voyage, it was probably another series of failures.

 

The rest of this voyage can be traced from other sources, including his own published works. In February 1845 he was at Ebon, hwere the Naiad was attacked and narly taken. He then went south to his old hunting-ground of Melanesia for a cargo of sandalwood. In March he was on he west coast of New Caledonia, at Port St Vincent, but the natives appeared so hostile that he stayed only a few days. He then went to the Loyalty Islands, as he had planned to do on the previous voyage. His relations with the Uveans must have continued as friendly as before, for he took the young chief Jokwie aboard the Naiad as he went east to the New Hebrides for sandalwood and beche-de-mer. Another object of this first visit to the New Hebrides was appartently to have the Naiad repaired at James Paddon's station at Aneityum. But the Naiad's troubles wer not obver: in November 1845, while at Anciyum, a severe eath tremor shook the vessel 'so severely as to open several of her seams', and she had to be. abandoned there

 

Early in 1846, Cheyne set out from Chjina once more for the Pacific islands, this time in the Starling. According to a report rteceived in Sydney, he went to Ancityum for he purp0ose of 'reviving a settlement there'. It is presumed that he went to salvage something from the wreck of the Naiad, or possibly to take supplies or Chinese labourers to the island at Paddon's request, for Paddon was still very much in business, although not withoiut his troubles, and would certainly not have counternanced an interloiper there. In the New Hebrides Cheyne bought land at Port Resolution, in September 1846, and traded for sandalwood at Efate and again at Uvea, whete he bought the islnd of Wassau, between Muli and the southern tip of the main island.   

 
 

 

 
 
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