Page images
PDF

squadron of four heavy frigates and three corvettes, commanded by Rear-Admiral Du Petit Thouars, accordingly astonished the natives by suddenly appearing in the lovely harbour of Taiohae, on the island of Nukuheva ; and very soon these simple folk learned the full meaning of the gay tricoloured flags and bristling broadsides. The ostensible pretext for this invasion was that of reinstating Mowanna, the friendly chief of Nukuheva, in what the French thought proper to assume as his ancestral right—namely, that of ruling over the whole group of twelve isles, each of which had hitherto considered itself as a distinct world, subdivided into many antagonistic kingdoms. However, a puppet-king was the pretext required, and Mowanna furnished it, and was rewarded with regal honours and a gorgeous military uniform, rich with gold lace and embroidery. Of course he and his tribe of Nukuhevans were vastly delighted, perceiving that they had gained omnipotent allies; and when five hundred troops were landed in full uniform, and daily drilled by resplendent officers, their admiration knew no bounds. They recollected how, when in 1814, the U.S. frigate Essex, commanded by Captain Porter, had refitted at Nukuheva, she had lent them a considerable force of Sailors and marines, to assist their own body of 2000 men in attacking a neigh

MIGHT MAKES RIGHT. 97

bouring tribe. The latter had offered a desperate resistance, and repulsed the allied forces, who, however, consoled themselves by burning every village they could reach, thus giving the inhabitants good cause to hate the white men's ships.

Now, with the aid of these warlike French troops, the Nukuhevans thought themselves sure of victory, with the prospect of retaining the supremacy. But when fortifications were commenced, and the troops surrounded their camps with solid works of defence, making it evident that the occupation was to be a permanent one, a feeling of detestation, mingled with fear of the invaders, gradually increased, and was certainly not lessened by several sharp encounters, in one of which, 150 natives are said to have been slain. However, the reign of might prevailed, and the tricolour has floated over the Marquesas unchallenged from that time to the present.

This appropriation of the Marquesas was immediately followed by that of the Society Isles, whither the admiral proceeded in the Reine Blanche frigate, leaving the rest of the squadron at the Marquesas. He anchored in the harbour of Papeete, and sent a message to Queen Pomare to the effect that, unless she immediately agreed to pay somewhere about 30,000 dollars as an indemnity for alleged insults to the French flag, he would bombard the defenceless town.

VOL. II. G

[ocr errors]

The said insults were very much like those offered by the lamb to the wolf in the old fable, the pretext raked up being simply that Queen Pomare and all her people, having already become stanch Christians, according to the teaching of the London Mission, had positively refused to allow certain French priests to settle in the isles, and found a Roman Catholic Mission, with a view to proselytising. These proving obstinate in their determination to remain, had, with all due honour, been conveyed on board a vessel about to sail for some distant port, with a sensible recommendation to pursue their calling on some of the many isles which were still heathen.

The French admiral now insisted that, in addition to paying the indemnity demanded, the people of Tahiti should, at their own expense, erect a Roman Catholic church in every district where they had built one for their congregational worship.

The unhappy queen, terrified lest the arrogant Du Petit Thouars should commence bombarding her helpless capital, yet utterly incapable of complying with his unjust demands, fled by night in a canoe to the isle of Moorea, knowing that no decisive action could be taken in her absence. Her best friend and adviser throughout these troubles was the British consul, Mr Pritchard. The admiral, perceiving this, caused him to be arrested and

THE WOLF AND THE LAMB. 99

imprisoned. After being kept for ten days in solitary confinement, he was put on board an English vessel out at sea, and forcibly sent away from the islands without a trial or investigation of any kind. On his arrival in England the British Government naturally demanded an explanation of such proceedings. M. Guizot replied that the French authorities at Tahiti found they could make no progress there because of Mr Pritchard's great influence with the queen — in other words, his determination, if possible, to see fair play. The French Government, therefore, approved the action of its officials, but promised to indemnify Mr Pritchard for what they themselves described as his illegal imprisonment and pecuniary losses. We have, however, Mr Pritchard's own authority for the fact that, in the year 1880, he had never received one single sou of the promised indemnity; and England apparently considered it the part of wisdom, if not of honour, to let the subject drop. So the French pirates (for certainly in all this matter they acted as such) compelled the poor queen and her chiefs to yield to their demands. Some, indeed, strove to make a brave stand, and drive the invaders from their shores; but what could these unarmed warriors do against artillery? They retreated to their mountain fastnesses, but French troops pursued them thither, built scientific forts, and remained masters of the position. The good, sensible queen, who had proved herself so wise a ruler of a happy and peaceful people up to this terrible November, 1843, was now declared incompetent to govern. The French Protectorate was established,' and the Reine Blanche having saluted the Protectorate flag, desired the queen and chiefs to do likewise—an order which they were unable to obey, till the admiral politely offered to lend the

* We can scarcely describe this proceeding as the thin end of the wedge, but it was obvious from the beginning that the assumption of the Protectorate was merely a cloak for forcibly taking possession of these gems of the Pacific. The cloak was finally thrown aside in June 1880, when King Pomare V. was persuaded by the commandant to cede the nominal sovereignty of the isles to those who had so long held its reality, and to accept a life - pension of 12,000 dollars a-year, which he might enjoy in peace in his own fashion, and so escape from the continual tutoring, which made his kingly rank a wearisome burden, devoid of all honour.

The annexation of Tahiti was formally proclaimed in Papeete on 24th March 1881, and was made the occasion of a brilliant festival, such as the light-hearted crowds are ever ready to welcome. Great were the official rejoicings. From every ship in the harbour, and every corner of the town, floated the tricolour, which likewise adorned the raven tresses of the women and the button-holes of the men. Great was the noise of big guns, and the amount of powder expended on salutes. An imposing column of all branches of the service—sailors and marines, marine artillery, with their guns, infantry, and gendarmes—marched round the town, headed by the band: “A Tahiti, comme en France, on aime à voir passer nos soldats,” says the ‘Messager de Tahiti.' So the lovely town was en fête. Every himène chorus had arrived from every corner of the isles, making the whole air musical. Thousands of natives, all in their brightest, freshest dresses, kept up incessant movement in the clear sunlight or cool shade. Everywhere games and feasting were

« PreviousContinue »