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Title: The Americans In The South Seas (1901)
Author: Louis Becke

From "The Tapu Of Banderah and Other Stories"




Perhaps the proper title of this article should be "The Influence of
American Enterprise upon the Maritime Development of the first Colony
in Australia," but as such a long-winded phrase would convey, at the
outset, no clearer conception of the subject-matter than that of "The
Americans in the South Seas," we trust our readers will be satisfied
with the simpler title.

It is curious, when delving into some of the dry-as-dust early
Australian and South Sea official records, or reading the more
interesting old newspapers and books of "Voyages," to note how soon the
Americans "took a hand" in the South Sea trade, and how quickly they
practically monopolised the whaling industry in the Pacific, from the
Antipodes to Behring Straits.

The English Government which had despatched the famous "First Fleet"
of convict transports to the then unknown shores of Botany Bay, had not
counted upon an American intrusion into the Australian Seas, and when
it came, Cousin Jonathan did not receive a warm welcome from the English
officials stationed in the newly founded settlement on the shore of
Sydney Cove, as the first settlement in Australia was then called. This
was scarcely to be wondered at, for many of those officers who formed
part of the "First Fleet" expedition had fought in the war of the
rebellion, and most of them knew, what was a fact, that the English
Government only a few years earlier had seriously considered proposals
for colonising New South Wales with American loyalists, who would have,
in their opinion, made better settlers than convicts. And it is probable
that if the crowded state of the English gaols and prison hulks had not
forced the Government into quickly finding penal settlements for their
prisoners, the plan would have been carried out.

When his Majesty's ship _Guardian_ under the command of Nelson's "brave
captain, Riou," was wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope, and her cargo of
stores, badly needed by the starving colonists of New South Wales, were
lying at Cape Town without means of transport, an American merchant
skipper saw his chance and offered to convey them to Sydney Cove. But
the English officers, although they knew that the colony was starving,
were afraid to take the responsibility of chartering a "foreign"
ship. Lieutenant King--afterwards to become famous in Australian
history--wrote to the almost heartbroken and expectant Governor Phillip
from the Cape as follows: "There is here a Whitehaven man who, on his
own head, intends going immediately to America and carrying out two
vessels, one of 100 or 120 tons--a Marble Head schooner--and the other a
brig of 150 tons, both of which he means to load with salt beef and
pork which he can afford to sell in the colony at 7d. a pound. He wished
encouragement from me, but anything of that kind being out of my power
to give him, he has taken a decided part and means to run the risque. I
mention this so that you may know what is meant."

This "risque," undertaken by the adventurous "Whitehaven man" was the
genesis of the American trading and whaling industry in the Southern
Seas, and American enterprise had much to do with the development of the
infant colony of New South Wales, inasmuch as American ships not only
brought cargoes of food to the starving colonists, but American whalemen
showed the unskilled British seamen (in this respect) how to kill the
sperm whale and make a profit of the pursuit of the leviathan of the
Southern Seas.

In 1791 some returning convict transports, whose captains had provided
themselves with whaling gear, engaged in the whale fishing in the South
Pacific on their way home to England. Whales in plenty were seen, but
the men who manned the boats were not the right sort of men to kill
them--they knew nothing of sperm-whaling, although some of them had had
experience of right whaling in the Arctic Seas--a very different
and tame business indeed to the capture of the mighty cachalot.
Consequently, they were not very successful, but the Enderby Brothers,
a firm of London shipowners, were not to be easily discouraged, and
they sent out vessel after vessel, taking care to engage some skilled
American whalemen for each ship. Sealing parties were formed and landed
upon islands in Bass's Straits, and regular whaling and sealing stations
were formed at several points on the Australian coast, and by 1797 the
whale fishing had become of such importance that a minute was issued by
the Board of Trade, dated December 26th, setting forth that the merchant
adventurers of the southern whale fishery had memoralised the Board to
the effect that the restrictions of the East India company and the war
with Spain prevented the said whalers from successfully carrying on
their business, and that the Board had requested the East India Company,
while protecting its own trading rights, to do something towards
admitting other people to trade. The effect of the Board's
minute--worded of course in much more "high falutin" language as should
be the case when a mere Board of Trade addressed such a high and mighty
corporation as the Honourable East India Company--was that directors
permitted whaling to be carried on at Kerguelen's Land (in the Indian
Ocean), off the coasts of New Holland, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia,
New Zealand, the Philippines and Formosa, but they restrained trading
further north than the Equator and further east than 51 of east
longitude, and that restraint remained for a long time to come.

For the Spanish war trouble the whalers took another remedy: they
obtained letters of marque and pretty soon added successful privateering
to their whaling ventures, and the Spaniards on the coast of Peru and
on the Spanish Pacific Islands before a year had passed found that an
English whaler was a vessel armed with other weapons besides harpoons
and lances, and was a good ship to keep clear of.

By this time the Americans were taking a share in the whaling and
sealing industries--rather more than their share the Englishmen thought,
for in 1804 Governor King issued a proclamation which sets forth that:
"Whereas it has been represented to me that the commanders of some
American vessels have, without any permission or authority whatever,
not only greatly incommoded his Majesty's subjects in resorting to and
continuing among the different islands in Bass's Straits for skins and
oil, but have also in violation of the law of nations and in contempt of
the local regulations of this Territory and its dependencies, proceeded
to build vessels on these islands and in other places... to the
prejudice and infringements of his Majesty's rights and properties
thereon," he (King) had, while waiting for instructions from England,
decided to prevent any foreigner whatever from building vessels whose
length of keel exceeded 14 feet, except, of course, such vessel was
built in consequence of shipwreck by distressed seamen. There was
nothing unreasonable in this prohibition, as the whole territory being
a penal settlement, one of the Royal instructions for its government was
that no person should be allowed to build vessels without the express
permission of the Governor, so the Americans were only asked to obey
the existing law. The proclamation ended with a clause ordering that
all vessels coming from the State of New York should do fourteen days
quarantine in consequence of the plague having broken out there. Just
about this time news reached Sydney that the crew of an American sealer
lying in Kent's Bay among Cape Barren Islands (Bass's Straits) were
building a schooner from the wreck of an East Indiaman named the _Sydney
Cave_--a ship famous in Australian sea story. King despatched an officer
to the spot with orders to "command the master to desist from
building any vessel whatever, and should he refuse to comply, you will
immediately cause the King's mark to be put on some of the timbers, and
forbid him and his people from prosecuting the work, and also forbid the
erection of any habitation on any part of the coast... taking care not
to suffer any or the least act of hostility, or losing sight of the
attention due to the subjects of the United States," &c.

Writing to England on this matter, King says: "This is the third
American vessel that has within the last twelve months been in the
Straits and among the islands, procuring seal skins and oils for the
China market." In the same letter he tells how the loss of the ships
_Cato_ and _Porpoise_ on Wreck Reef had led to the discovery of
_beche-de-mer_ which could then be sold in Canton for 50 a ton; this
find was another reason for keeping foreigners out of Australian waters.

As no more is heard of the schooner building in Bass's Straits, we may
assume that the Americans quietly obeyed the laws and desisted; but
there were soon more causes of trouble.

In March, 1805, a general order set forth that American ships, after
receiving assistance and relief at Sydney Cove, were continually
returning this hospitality by secreting on board and carrying off
runaway convicts, and so it was ordered that every English or foreign
vessel entering the ports of the settlement should give security for
themselves in 500, and two freeholders in the sum of 50 each, not to
carry off any person without the Governor's certificate that such person
was free to go. This order had some effect in putting a stop to the
practice, but not a few persons managed to leave the colony and reach
American shores without there being evidence enough to show how they got
away. Muir, one of the "Scotch Martyrs," escaped in the American Ship
_Otter_ as far back as 1795; and although his story has been told
before in detail, we may here briefly mention that the _Otter_ was hired
expressly to affect his escape. Muir got on board safely enough, and
the ship sailed, but was wrecked off the west coast of America. After
sufferings and privations enough to satisfy even the sternest justice,
Muir managed to reach Mexico, and embarked in a Spanish frigate for
Europe. The vessel was taken by an English man-of-war after a sharp
engagement, in which Muir was severely wounded. His identity was
concealed from the English commander, and he managed to reach Paris,
only to die of his wound.

In October, 1804, there was serious trouble in Bass's Straits between
English and American sealers. Messrs. Kable and Underwood, Sydney
shipowners, had a sealing establishment in Kent's Bay, and among the men
employed were some "assigned" convicts. One Joseph Murrell, master of
the sealing schooner _Endeavour_, wrote to his owners a letter in which
he stated he was too ill to write coherently, in consequence of the
usage he had received from one Delano, master of the American schooner
_Pilgrim_. Delano's name was familiar to Governor King, inasmuch as
he had taken a part in the 1803 attempt to colonise Port Philip, as
follows: One of the officers, Lieutenant Bowen, on his way across Bass's
Straits in a small boat, had the misfortune to carry away his rudder,
and when in danger was rescued by Delano. Bowen, anxious to deliver
some despatches, hired the _Pilgrim's_ tender from Delano to carry them,
omitting to make a bargain beforehand; and for this paltry service the
American charged 400! The British Government growled, but paid.

But let Captain Murrell tell his story: "At four in the morning on the
17th I was suddenly seized by the chief mate of the _Pilgrim_, and
three other American ruffians" (they were really Chilenos), "two of whom
caught me by the hair, the other two by the arms. They dragged me out
of bed and trailed me in this fashion along the ground till they came to
the sea beach. Here they beat me with clubs, then kept me three-quarters
of an hour naked whilst they were searching for the rest of my people."
Murrell goes on to detail as to how he threatened them with the wrath of
the Governor, to which they replied that the Governor was not there to
protect him. He was then taken to a tree and lashed to it, stripped, and
all the Americans took a hand in flogging him into insensibility. When
he recovered, he says, he asked for death rather than torture, and was
answered savagely that he and his men were the means of depriving the
Americans of 3,000 dollars' worth of skins by their operations, and that
Englishmen had better keep away from Cape Barren and leave the field
open to Americans.

"Then," he wrote, "they began to sport away with their bloody cruelties,
until some few Englishmen belonging to other [sealing] gangs out of
Port Jackson, stung to the quick to see the cruelties exercised upon
me without humanity, law, or justice, determined not to suffer it, and
began to assemble. This occasioned the Americans to face about, at which
instant I got my hands loose and ran into the sea, determined to be
drowned rather than be tortured to death. I was followed by a number of
Americans to the seaside, who stoned me, and sent into the water after
me a Sandwich Island savage, who gave me desperate blows with a club. I
put up my arm to save my head and he broke my arm in three places. I
was then dragged on shore and left lying on the beach, the men remarking
that they supposed I had had enough, but that there were more of their
country's ships expected, who would not let me off so lightly. Then
they took away some of my people, rescuing from my custody a King's
prisoner."

In all a dozen men--convicts and others--were taken away by Delano and
his ruffianly crowd of Chilenos and Portuguese, and this particular
sealing station was practically destroyed.

Captain Moody, of the colonial schooner _Governor King_ had recorded a
similar instance a few months earlier, and there is no doubt that the
colonials had just cause for complaint; as there is equally no doubt
that they themselves were not altogether innocent of provocation.
Nothing, however, came of these quarrels, for although the Governor
wrote to England on the matter, the authorities "remembered to forget"
to answer, and the rival sealing parties continued to fight without
bringing about a serious battle, and the whaling and sealing industry
continued to grow in such fashion as is here indicated. What it had
become little more than a generation later is shown in the remainder
of this article, mentioning incidentally that an American whaler, the
_Topaz_, Captain Folger, was the first discoverer of the descendants
of the _Bounty_ mutineers on Pitcairn Island in 1808; and that Wilkes'
United States Exploring Expedition of 1836-42 was in a large measure
suggested to America by the great increase in that half of the century
of American South Sea trade. What this increase was can best be told in
the words of the man--Mr. Charles Enderby--who was unquestionably the
highest authority and whose house founded this very industry in the
Southern Ocean. In April, 1849, Charles Enderby received a charter of
incorporation for a proposed southern whale fishery, together with
a grant of the Auckland Islands (but that is another story), and
to celebrate the occasion a banquet was held at the London Tavern,
Bishops-gate Street, London, presided over by the senior naval Lord
of the Admiralty, who proposed the health of the guest of the evening,
Charles Enderby. In replying to that toast Mr. Enderby quoted the
whalemen's shipping list, in which it was shown that in March, 1849,
"the United States, whose flag was to be found on every sea, had 596
whale-ships of 190,000 tons, and manned by 18,000 seamen, while the
number of English ships engaged in the whale trade was only fourteen!"

During the next decade the English did something to improve this state
of affairs, but their endeavour was made too late, and by the time they
woke up to the situation the heyday of South Sea whaling was gone.

We are so accustomed to take it for granted that the English (the
original brand thereof, not the American pattern) were fifty years ago
in command of all sea commerce, that the old-fashioned English sailor
was superior to all others, and that his ships beat every one else's in
everything appertaining to the sea, that this fact of how thoroughly the
Americans beat us in the great whaling industry is never remembered.
And whaling was and is now a branch of sea service that needs _men_ to
successfully work in it, for it cannot be profitably pursued with the
human paint-scrubbers who to-day make up such a large section of our
mercantile marine; and the success of the American whaling seamen
may supply a clue to the Nelson-like fashion in which American
men-of-warsmen tackle the serious business of the American Navy.



THE END



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