CHAPTER VII. THE VOYAGE FROM VALPARAISO TO CANTON VIA TAHITI.
DEPARTURE FROM VALPARAISO - TAHITI - MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE PEOPLE - FETE AND BALL IN HONOUR OF LOUIS PHILIPPE - EXCURSIONS - A TAHITIAN DINNER - THE LAKE VAIHIRIA - THE DEFILE OF FANTAUA AND THE DIADEM - DEPARTURE - ARRIVAL IN CHINA.
On the 17th of March, Captain Van Wyk Jurianse sent me word that his ship was ready for sea, and that he should set sail the next morning. The news was very unwelcome to me, as, for the last two days, I had been suffering from English cholera, which on board ship, where the patient cannot procure meat broth or any other light nourishment, and where he is always more exposed to the sudden changes of the weather than he is on shore, is very apt to be attended with grave results. I did not, however, wish to miss the opportunity of visiting China, knowing how rarely it occurred, nor was I desirous of losing the two hundred dollars (40 pounds) already paid for my passage, and I therefore went on board, trusting in my good luck, which had never forsaken me on my travels.
During the first few days, I endeavoured to master my illness by observing a strict diet, and abstaining from almost everything, but to no purpose. I still continued to suffer, until I luckily thought of using salt-water baths. I took them in a large tub, in which I remained a quarter of an hour. After the second bath, I felt much better, and after the sixth, I was completely recovered. I merely mention this malady, to which I was very subject in warm climates, that I may have the opportunity of remarking, that sea-baths or cooling drinks, such as buttermilk, sour milk, sherbet, orangeade, etc., are very efficacious remedies.
The ship in which I made my present voyage, was the Dutch barque Lootpuit, a fine, strong vessel, quite remarkable for its cleanliness. The table was pretty good, too, with the exception of a few Dutch dishes, and a superfluity of onions. To these, which played a prominent part in everything that was served up, I really could not accustom myself, and felt greatly delighted that a large quantity of this noble production of the vegetable kingdom became spoilt during the voyage.
The captain was a polite and kind man, and the mates and sailors were also civil and obliging. In fact, as a general rule, in every ship that I embarked in, I was far from finding seamen so rough and uncivil as travellers often represent them to be. Their manners are certainly not the most polished in the world, neither are they extraordinarily attentive or delicate, but their hearts and dispositions are mostly good.
After three days' sailing, we saw, on the 21st March, the island of St. Felix, and on the morning following, St. Ambrosio. They both consist of naked, inhospitable masses of rock, and serve at most as resting places for a few gulls.
We were now within the tropics, but found the heat greatly moderated by the trade wind, and only unbearable in the cabin.
For nearly a month did we now sail on, without the slightest interruption, free from storms, with the same monotonous prospect of sky and water before us, until, on the 19th of April, we reached the Archipelago of the Society Islands. This Archipelago, stretching from 130 to 140 degrees longitude, is very dangerous, as most of the islands composing it scarcely rise above the surface of the water; in fact, to make out David Clark's Island, which was only twelve miles distant, the captain was obliged to mount to the shrouds.
During the night of the 21st to the 22nd of April we were overtaken by a sudden and violent storm, accompanied by heavy thunder; this storm our captain termed a thunder-gust. While it lasted flashes of lightning frequently played around the mast-top, occasioned by electricity. They generally flutter for two or three minutes about the most elevated point of any object, and then disappear.
The night of the 22nd to the 23rd of April was a very dangerous one; even the captain said so. We had to pass several of the low islands in dark rainy weather, which completely concealed the moon from us. About midnight our position was rendered worse by the springing up of a strong wind, which, together with incessant flashes of lightning, caused us to expect another squall; luckily, however, morning broke, and we escaped both the storm and the islands.
In the course of the day we passed the Bice Islands, and two days later, on the 25th of April, we beheld one of the Society Islands, Maithia.
On the following morning, being the thirty-ninth of our voyage, we came in sight of Tahiti, and the island opposite to it, Emao, also called Moreo. The entrance into Papeiti, the port of Tahiti, is exceedingly dangerous; it is surrounded by reefs of coral as by a fortress, while wild and foaming breakers, rolling on every side, leave but a small place open through which a vessel can steer.
A pilot came out to meet us, and, although the wind was so unfavourable that the sails had to be trimmed every instant, steered us safely into port. Afterwards, when we had landed, we were congratulated heartily on our good fortune; every one had watched our course with the greatest anxiety, and, at the last turn the ship took, expected to see her strike upon a coral reef. This misfortune had happened to a French man-of-war, that at the period of our arrival had been lying at anchor for some months, engaged in repairing the damage done.