CHAPTER IV. Narrative of Captain Cook's second Voyage round the World.
Pursuing his discoveries, Captain Cook came in sight of an island, which was afterwards known to be called by the natives Erromango. After coasting it for three days, he brought his vessel to anchor in a bay there, on the 3rd of August. The next day, he went with two boats to examine the coast, and to look for a proper landing-place, that he might obtain a supply of wood and water. At this time, the inhabitants began to assemble on the shore, and by signs to invite our people to land. Their behaviour was apparently so friendly, that the captain was charmed with it; and the only thing which could give him the least suspicion was, that most of them were armed with clubs, spears, darts, and bows and arrows. He did not, therefore, remit his vigilance; but kept his eye continually upon the chief, watching his looks, as well as his actions. It soon was evident that the intentions of the Indians were totally hostile. They made a violent attempt to sieze upon one of the boats; and though, on our commander's pointing a musket at them, they in some measure desisted, yet they returned in an instant, seemingly determined to carry their design into execution. At the head of the party was the chief; while others, who could not come at the boat, stood behind with darts, stones, and bows and arrows in hand, ready to support their countrymen. As signs and threats had no effect, the safety of Captain Cook and his people became the only object of consideration; and yet he was unwilling to fire on the multitude. He resolved, therefore, to make the chief alone the victim of his own treachery, and accordingly aimed his musket at him; but at this critical moment it missed fire. This circumstance encouraged the natives to despise our weapons, and to shew the superiority of their own, by throwing stones and darts and by shooting arrows. Hence it became absolutely necessary for the captain to give orders to his men to fire upon the assailants. The first discharge threw them into confusion; but a second was scarcely sufficient to drive them off the beach. In consequence of this skirmish, four of the Indians lay, to all appearance, dead on the shore. However, two of them were afterward perceived to crawl into the bushes; and it was happy for these people that not half of the muskets of the English would go off, since otherwise many more must have fallen. The inhabitants were, at length, so terrified as to make no farther appearance; and two oars which had been lost in the conflict, were left standing up against the bushes.
It was observed of these islanders, that they seemed of a different race from those of Mallicollo, and that they spoke a different language. They are of a middle size, with a good shape and tolerable features. Their colour is very dark; and their aspect is not mended by a custom they have of painting their faces, some with black, and others with red pigment. As to their hair, it is curly and crisp, and somewhat woolly. The few women who were seen, and who appeared to be ugly, wore a kind of petticoat, made either of palm leaves, or a plant similar in its nature; but the men, like those of Mallicollo, were almost entirely naked. On account of the treacherous behaviour of the inhabitants of Erromango, Captain Cook called a promontory, or peninsula, near which the skirmish happened, Traitor's Head.
From this place the captain sailed for an island which had been discovered before, at a distance, and at which, on account of his wanting a large quantity of wood and water, he was resolved to make some stay. At first the natives were disposed to be very hostile but our commander, with equal wisdom and humanity contrived to terrify them, without danger to their lives. This was principally effected by firing a few great guns, at which they were so much alarmed, as afterwards to be brought to tolerable order. Among these islanders, many were inclined to be on friendly terms with our navigators, and especially the old people; whilst most of the younger were daring and insolent, and obliged the English to keep to their arms. It was natural enough, that age should be prudent and cautious, and youth bold and impetuous; and yet this distinction, with regard to the behaviour of the various nations which had been visited by Captain Cook, had not occurred before.
The island, where the captain now stayed, was found upon inquiry to be called, by the inhabitants, Tanna; and three others in its neighbourhood, and which could be seen from it, were distinguished by the names of Immer, Erronan or Footoona and Annatom.
From such information of the natives, as our commander could see no reason to doubt, it appeared, that circumcision was practised among them, and that they were eaters of human flesh. Concerning the latter subject, he should never have thought of asking them a single question, if they had not introduced it themselves, by inquiring whether the English had the same custom. It hath been argued, that necessity alone could be the origin of this horrid practice. But as the people of Tanna are possessed of fine pork and fowls, together with an abundance of roots and fruits, the plea of necessity cannot be urged in their behalf. In fact, no instance was seen of their eating human flesh; and, therefore, there might, perhaps, be some reason to hesitate, in pronouncing them to be cannibals.