Page images

general effect of beauty this is certainly not equal to Ovalau, and even the town looks little better than Levuka," though it is certainly more poetic, the houses being all smothered in foliage. But then it is fine-weather foliage—all hybiscus and bread-fruit, L the former, of that very blue-green tint, which in rain looks as grey as an olive-grove; while each glossy leaf of the bread-fruit is a mirror, which exactly reflects the condition of the weather–glancing bright in sunlight, but to-day only repeating the dull hue of the leaden clouds. For indeed it is a dreary grey day, sea and sky alike dull and colourless, all in keeping with the sad news with which the pilot greeted us as he came on board—namely, that Queen Pomare died a fortnight ago (on the 17th September); so we have just missed seeing the good old queen of my infantile romantic visions. Her eldest son, Prince Ariiaue, has been proclaimed king under the hereditary name, and is henceforth to be known as Pomare V. But the people are all in deepest dule, and instead of the great rejoicings and balls, and himénes, and varied delights of the fête Napoléon (or rather its republican substitute, the anniversary of the Protectorate), on the 9th October, for which we had expected to find joyous crowds assembled—always ready for an excuse for music and dancing—a festival to which my friends have been looking forward all the voyage, – instead of this, we see the crowds pouring out of the native church, all dressed in the deepest mourning, from their crape-trimmed black hats, to their black flowing robes, which are worn from the throat, and with sleeves down to the wrist; they trail on the ground in sweeping trains, and are so long in front that even the bare feet are covered. There are no flowers, no fragrant wreaths, no arrowroot crowns, no snowy plumes of reva-reva—even the beautiful raven-tresses of the women have all been cut off. This is mourning with a vengeance; and the Court circular has commanded that the whole nation shall wear the garb of woe for six months. I do hope that at least the commoners will disobey this injunction At present all the men appear like black crows. Apparently many are dis

* Capital of Fiji.


figured by foreign dress-coats; and even those who retain the national pareo (which is the Tahitian word for sulu or waist-cloth) are wearing black tappa or black calico; and their heads are closely cropped. So sadly disfiguring ! and so terribly subversive of all our preconceived visions of Papeete, as the very ideal of light, and mirth, and soft sunlit colour. The even tenor of life in Tahiti has received several startling shocks since the 24th August, when the French Admiral Serre arrived here in the steam-frigate Magicienne, bringing the new governor, M. Brunnet Millet. But, sad to say, Madame Brunnet Millet died on the voyage from sheer sea-sickness; and her poor husband, who adored her, became positively imbecile from grief, so that he had to resign office immediately on his arrival. His natural successor would have been M. La Barbe, who, however, had made himself generally obnoxious to the Tahitians, and to the queen in particular, by the injudiciously severe penalties which he enforced for some of her son's peccadilloes. She therefore wrote to the admiral to say that if La Barbe became governor, she would at once leave Tahiti and retire to Moorea, thus leaving all business at a dead-lock. Thereupon the admiral promised that her will should be respected, and announced that he would himself assume the office of governor, till such time as a fresh appointment could be made in Paris. La Barbe remonstrated. The admiral bade him be silent. He persisted, and was immediately placed under arrest for fourteen days, at the end of which time his sword was returned to him, and he had to put it on, and go to thank the admiral formally for his goodness in restoring it ! But as his presence in the Isles would thenceforth have been unpleasant, he and his wife and grown-up son, together with M. Brunnet Millet, have been shipped as passengers on board La Loire, which is now lying alongside of us, on the eve of sailing for France. She is a great big line-of-battle ship, transformed into a transport, for the conveyance of convicts from France to New Caledonia, but returns comparatively empty. So far, her passenger list does not sound cheerful The moment we reached our moorings, a boat was despatched in hot haste to convey to the admiral the despatches concerning the little episode in Samoa. I fear our kind captain is not free from misgivings as to the light in which that unlucky business may be viewed by his superior officer.

H.B.M. Consulate, PAPEETE,
Sunday Evening.

Alas! alas ! the wretched Samoan adventure has indeed ended most lamentably. The admiral, who from all accounts is a very severe stern man, had no sooner read Captain Aube's report, than he signalled for him to go on board La Magicienne, and informed him, that as he was quite incapable of understanding his line of action at Samoa, the only thing he could do was to send him back to France, as a passenger in La Loire, that he might himself explain his motives at headquarters; * in short, he removed him from his command of the Seignelay.

Ten minutes later, the fine old sailor returned on board the vessel that was no longer his, to announce this dreadful news to his officers, on whom the blow fell like a thunderbolt. For, as I have told you, they have all lived together on the most cordial terms; and no family, losing a dearly loved father, could be more utterly wretched than are all on board, both officers and men. Many fairly broke down; and I am sure I do not wonder, for it is a lamentable break-up of such a happy ship-family. What a bouleversement of all the pleasant pictures we were conjuring up only last night ! Certainly this is a very heavy penalty for what was, at the worst, an error in judgment.

The regret on shore is almost as great as on the vessel; for Commandant Aube is well known here, and exceedingly popular with all the foreign residents, who had hoped that he would be appointed Governor of Tahiti. This is a grievous ending to our delightful voyage, and I need not tell you how downhearted I feel about it all. I could almost wish that we had never gone near miserable Samoa, with all its jars and hatreds.

* An explanation which resulted in the complete exoneration of Captain Aube,

and his appointment to the command of La Savoie, -a finer vessel than that from which he had been so summarily dismissed.


I must close this letter, as the little mail-schooner Nautilus sails for San Francisco in the morning, taking as passengers Monseigneur Elloi and M. Pinart. They hope to be able so to represent matters at Washington and in Paris as to put the Samoan episode in the best possible light.

I grieve to say the bishop is very ill; all these worries are very trying to him, and he loses ground daily. The prospect of so long a voyage in a little schooner of about 200 tons, with very mixed society, is anything but pleasant for an invalid, and a trying change from the comforts of the big ship. The actual distance is 4000 miles, and the voyage may be made in twenty-five days. But with contrary winds, the distance is sometimes increased to 6000 miles, and the voyage occupies six weeks | So I cannot tell at what date this letter will reach you.-Good-bye."

LONDON Mission, 9th Oct.

To-day has concluded the tragedy. Last night (after a farewell dinner with his officers, and a few touching last words to his men, who wept bitterly, sobbing aloud like children, and who cheered him lustily as he left the ship) Commandant Aube came ashore to take leave of his friends here, and at the British consulate. He was accompanied by his faithful dog, Fox, a poor sickly hound, on whom he has lavished infinite care and kindness throughout the voyage, but which he will leave here in charge of a Tahitian; so he starts on this sad voyage without even his dog as a companion. We escorted him to the shore, and sorrowfully watched his boat making for La Loire, the old line-of-battle ship, which sailed this morning with so sad a company. The poor Seignelay had the odious task of towing her out of harbour; and, as the ships parted, all the men burst into uncontrollable shouts of “Vive notre commandant l”—a spontaneous demonstration, which must have been more satisfactory to its hero than to the stern admiral. * The good bishop had the satisfaction of reaching la belle France, and there effectually pleading the cause of his friend, ere he laid down the burden of life,

which he had borne with so much anxious care for the weal of his people. He died very shortly after his return to Europe.

Just then an accident happened, which might have proved very serious. La Loire accidentally slipped a great tow-rope, which got entangled in the screw of the Seignelay; and, misunderstanding the signal to lower sail, the ponderous old vessel nearly ran down the lighter steam-ship, which could neither work her screw nor answer to her helm, but had to hoist sail and run before the wind. Being unable to turn, she had to sail straight out to sea for some hours, far out of sight. I watched this inexplicable movement from the semaphore—a high station commanding a magnificent view of town and harbour, and of the distant isle of Moorea. The old sailor in charge was as much perplexed as myself. He decided that the Seignelay must have been despatched to the Marquesas or elsewhere, with secret orders; while I decided that she must have “revolutioned,” and gone off to France. However, this evening she returned, under sail, and was able to go to the assistance of a vessel that had drifted on to the reef; so, on the whole, it was rather a fortunate episode, as it helped to distract the thoughts of all on board. Most of the residents here, bitterly as they regret the whole business, seem to agree that the admiral has really taken the wisest course, both as preventing (in the sense of prévenant) any possible remonstrance from England—in case she should espouse the cause of that very shady Anglo-American Fijian-Samoan house, with its convenient variety of flags—and perhaps, also, as saving M. Aube from harder judgment in France. But of course none of the officers can realise what a foolish episode that night's work appears to every one here. I have not yet told you anything of my own movements. On Sunday afternoon, M. de Gironde escorted me to the British consulate, there duly to report myself to Mr Miller, who for thirty years has been England's popular representative here; indeed he has never left Tahiti since the day he first landed here, with his bright, sensible, little Peruvian bride. Now they have three grown-up sons, and a pleasant daughter, married to M. Fayzeau, a French naval officer, in charge of native affairs. He is a charm

« PreviousContinue »