FRENCH NAVIGATORS, III
Captain Marchand's voyage—The Marquesas—Discovery of Nouka-Hiva—Manners and customs of the inhabitants—Revolution Islands—The coast of America and Tchinkitané Port—Cox Strait—Stay at the Sandwich Islands—Macao—Disappointment—Return to France—Discoveries made by Bass and Flinders upon the Australian coast—Captain Baudin's expedition—Endracht and De Witt Islands—Stay at Timor—Survey of Van Diemen's Land—Separation between the Géographe and the Naturaliste—Stay at Port Jackson—Convicts—Agricultural wealth of New South Wales—Return of theNaturaliste to France—Cruise of the Géographe and of the Casuarina to the Islands of Nuyts, Edels, Endracht, and De Witt—Second stay at Timor—Return to France.
Etienne Marchand, a captain in the merchant service, returning to France from Bengal in 1788, met with the English Captain Portlock in the roadstead of St. Helena. Their conversation naturally fell upon commerce, and the value of various articles of trade. Like a sensible man, Marchand allowed his companion to talk, and only put in a few words himself now and again, and thus drew from Portlock the interesting information that furs, and more especially otter skins, which could be obtained for a mere trifle upon the eastern coast of North America, realized an enormous price in China; whilst at the same time a cargo brought from the Celestial Empire would return a large profit in Europe.
Upon arriving in France, Marchand communicated what he had learned to his ship-owners, MM. Baux of Marseilles, and they at once resolved to act upon the knowledge he had obtained. Navigation in the Pacific Ocean required a ship of special strength and excellence. MM. Baux ordered the construction of a vessel of 300 tons' burden, plated with copper, and provided with every necessary for defence in case of attack, and for repairs in the event of accident, and also with everything likely to promote trade and to ensure the health of the crews during a voyage of three or four years.
Two captains, MM. Masse and Prosper Chanal, were associated with Marchand in the command of the expedition, and the rest of the party consisted of three lieutenants, two surgeons, three volunteers, and a crew of thirty-nine seamen. Four cannon, two howitzers, four swivel guns, with the needful ammunition, &c., formed the equipment.
Although the vessel was only to reach Cape Horn at the beginning of winter, the Solide left Marseilles upon the 14th of December, 1790. After a short stay at Praya, Cape Verde Islands, Marchand proceeded to Staten Island, which he reached upon the 1st of April, 1791. He then doubled Tierra del Fuego, and entered the Pacific. His intention was to proceed immediately to the north-western coast of America, but at the beginning of May the water on board was already so tainted that he required a fresh supply.
Under these circumstances, the captain decided to reach the Marquesas Islands of Mendoza which are situated in S. lat. 6°, and near 141° west of the Paris meridian.
"The situation of these islands," says Fleurien, who published an interesting account of this voyage, "was the more suitable for his purpose, because with a view to escaping the calms often met with in too easterly a course, he had resolved to cross the line at 142° west longitude."
This group of islands had been discovered in 1595 by Mendoza, and visited by Cook in 1774. Magdalena Island, the most southerly of the group, was reached upon the 12th of June.
The captain, and his associate Chanal, had calculated with such precision, that the Solide anchored off the Mendoza Islands, after a cruise of seventy-three days from the time of leaving Staten Island, without having noticed any land whatever. Constant astronomical observations alone ensured the safety of the vessel in a sea where the currents were unequal, and it was quite impossible to regulate the course of the ship by any ordinary calculations.
Marchand made for San Pedro, which lay on the west. He soon recognized Dominica, Santa Cristina, and Hood Island, the most northerly of the group, and finally anchored in Madre-de-Dios Bay, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the natives, crying "Tayo, Tayo."
Finding it impossible to obtain the number of pigs he required at this port, the captain decided upon visiting the remaining bays of Santa Cristina Island, which he found better populated, more fertile, and more picturesque than that of Madre-de-Dios.
The stay of the English in the Marquesas Islands had been too short to allow of accurate observations of the manners and customs of the inhabitants. We will therefore make a few extracts from the description given by Etienne Marchand.