FRENCH NAVIGATORS, I
On the 21st of October, after nine days' rest, the Saint-Jean Baptiste left Port Praslin.
On the next and ensuing days, lofty and mountainous land was constantly in sight. Upon the 2nd of November Surville descried an island, which received the name of Contrariétés, from the contrary winds which for three days checked the progress of the ship.
This island presented a delightful appearance. It was well cultivated, and, judging from the number of pirogues, which constantly surrounded the Saint-Jean Baptiste, it must have been well populated.
The natives could scarcely be persuaded to go on board. At last a chief sprang on deck. His first act was to possess himself of a sailor's clothes. He next visited the poop and took the white flag, which he wished to appropriate. It was only after some difficulty that he was dissuaded from the attempt. Lastly, he climbed up the mizen mast, and from that elevated position observed all parts of the vessel. Then, coming down, he began to jump about, and, addressing himself to those he had left in the canoes, he invited them, by words and gestures, to join him on deck.
About a dozen ventured. They resembled the natives of Port Praslin, but they spoke a different language, and could not make themselves understood by Lova-Salega. Their stay on board did not last long, for one of them having possessed himself of a bottle and thrown it into the sea, the captain showed some annoyance, which induced them to return to their pirogues.
The land appeared so inviting, and the sufferers from scurvy were in such pressing need of green provisions, that Surville determined to send a boat to test the disposition of the natives.
It had no sooner left the vessel than it was surrounded by pirogues, manned by a number of warriors. Hostilities were imminent, but a few shots dispersed the assailants. During the night a flotilla advanced towards the Saint-Jean Baptiste, and Surville, from motives of humanity, did not wait until the natives were close, but at once fired several pieces charged with grape shot, which put them to flight.
It was useless to think of landing, and Surville regained the open sea. He discovered successively the Three Sisters Island, and Gulf and Deliverance Islands, the last of the group.
The archipelago, just explored by Surville, was no other than that of the Solomon Islands, which, as we have mentioned, was discovered in the first instance by Mendana. That skilful navigator had traced and surveyed a hundred and forty leagues, besides drawing a series of fourteen very curious views of this sea coast.
If Surville's crew were not to be decimated by death, it was necessary at all risks to reach land, where he might disembark the sick, and procure fresh provisions for them.
He resolved to steer for New Zealand, which had not been visited since the time of Tasman.
On the 12th of December, 1769, Surville descried land in 35° 37' S. lat., and five days later he cast anchor in a bay which he called Lauriston. At the extremity was a creek which received the name of Chevalier. Cook had been in search of this land since the beginning of October, and was fated to pass by Lauriston Bay a few days later without observing the French vessel.
Whilst anchored in Chevalier Creek, Surville was overtaken by a frightful tempest, which brought him within an ace of destruction, but his sailors had such confidence in his nautical ability that they felt no anxiety, and obeyed his orders with a sang froid of which, unfortunately, the Maoris were the sole spectators.
The sloop which was conveying the sick to land had no time to reach the shore, before the storm broke in all its fury, and she was driven into Refuge Creek. The sailors and invalids were cordially welcomed by a chief called Naginoui, who received them into his cabin, and bestowed upon them all the green provisions which he could procure during their stay.
One of the boats which was towed behind the Saint-Jean Baptiste was carried away by the waves. Surville saw it stranded in Refuge Creek. He sent in search of it, but only the rudder was found. The natives had carried it off. The river was searched in vain; there was no trace of the boat. Surville would not allow this theft to go unpunished. He made signs to some Indians who were near their pirogues to approach him. One of them ran to him at once, and was immediately seized and carried on board. The others fled.
"He seized one pirogue," says Crozet, "and burnt the other; set fire to the huts and returned to the ship. The Indian who was taken was recognized by the surgeon as the chief who had so generously assisted them during the storm. It was the unfortunate Naginoui, who, after the services he had rendered the whites, could hardly have anticipated such treatment at their hands, when he obeyed Surville's signal."
He died on the 24th of March, 1770, near the island of Juan Fernandez.
We will pass over the observations made by the French navigator upon the natives, and the productions of New Zealand, as they are merely a repetition of those of Captain Cook.
Surville, convinced that he could not obtain the provisions he needed, put to sea a few days later, and steered between the parallels of 27° and 28° S. lat.; but the ravages of the scurvy, which increased daily, decided him on steering for the coast of Peru without delay.