« PreviousContinue »
was Mr Lewis, the ship's clerk. He was leaning, with folded arms, over a bale of blankets, engaged in bargaining, when he received a deadly stab in the back, and fell down the companion-way. Mr M‘Kay, who was seated on the taffrail, sprang on his feet, but was instantly knocked down with a war-club, and flung backwards into the sea, where he was despatched by the women in the canoes.
In the meantime, Captain Thorn made desperate fight against fearful odds. He was a powerful as well as a resolute man, but he had come upon deck without weapons. Shewish, the young chief, singled him out as his peculiar prey, and rushed upon him at the first outbreak. The captain had barely time to draw a clasp-knife, with one blow of which he laid the young savage dead at his feet. Several of the stoutest followers of Shewish now set upon him. He defended himself vigorously, dealing crippling blows to right and left, and strewing the quarter-deck with the slain and wounded.
His object was to fight his way to the cabin, where there were firearms; but he was hemmed in with foes, covered with wounds, and faint with loss of blood. For an instant, he leaned upon the tiller-wheel, when a blow from behind with a war-club felled him to the deck, where he was despatched with knives, and thrown overboard.
While this was transacting upon the quarter-deck, a chance-medley fight was going on throughout the ship. The crew fought desperately with knives, handspikes, and whatever weapon they could seize upon in the moment of surprise. They were soon, however, overpowered by numbers, and mercilessly butchered. As to the seven who had been sent aloft to make sail, they contemplated with horror the carnage that was going on below. Being destitute of weapons, they let themselves down by the running-rigging, in hopes of getting between decks. fell in the attempt, and was instantly despatched ; another received a death-blow in the back as he was descending ; a third, Stephen Weeks, the armourer, was mortally wounded as he was getting down the hatchway. The remaining four made good their retreat into the cabin, where they found Mr Lewis still alive, though mortally wounded. Barricading the cabin-door, they broke holes through the companion-way, and, with the muskets and ammunition which were at hand, opened a brisk fire that soon cleared the deck.
Thus far the Indian interpreter, from whom these particulars are derived, had been an eye-witness of the deadly conflict. He had taken no part in it, and had been spared by the natives as being of their race. In the confusion of the moment, he took refuge with the rest in the canoes.
The survivors of the crew now sallied forth and discharged some of the deck-guns, which did great execution among the canoes, and drove all the savages to shore.
For the remainder of the day, no one ventured to put off to the ship, deterred by the effects of the firearms. The night passed away without any further attempt on the part of the natives. When the day dawned, the Tonquin still lay at anchor in the bay, her sails all loose and flapping in the wind, and no one apparently on board of her. After a time, some of the canoes ventured forth to reconnoitre, taking with them the interpreter. They paddled about her, keeping cautiously at a distance; but growing more and more emboldened at seeing her quiet and lifeless. One man at length made his appearance on the deck, and was recognised by the interpreter as Mr Lewis. He made friendly signs, and invited them
on board. It was long before they ventured to comply. Those who mounted the deck met with no oppositionno one was to be seen on board; for Mr Lewis, after inviting them, had disappeared.
Other canoes pressed forward to board the prize; the decks were soon crowded, and the sides covered with clambering savages, all intent on plunder.
In the midst of their eagerness and exultation, the ship blew up with a tremendous explosion. Arms, legs, and mutilated bodies were blown into the air, and dreadful havoc was made in the surrounding canoes. The interpreter was in the mainchains at the time of the explosion, and was thrown unhurt into the water, where he succeeded in getting into one of the canoes. According to his statement, the bay presented an awful spectacle after the catastrophe. The ship had disappeared; but the bay was covered with fragments of the wreck, with shattered canoes, and Indians swimming for their lives, or struggling in the agonies of death ; while those who had escaped the danger remained aghast and stupified, or made with frantic panic for the shore. Upwards of a hundred savages were destroyed by the explosion, many more were shockingly mutilated, and for days afterwards the limbs and the bodies of the slain were thrown upon the beach.
The inhabitants of Neweetee were overwhelmed with consternation at this astounding calamity, which had burst upon them in the very moment of triumph. The warriors sat mute and mournful, while the women filled the air with loud lamentations. Their weeping and wailing, however, was suddenly changed into yells of fury at the sight of four unfortunate white men brought captive into the village. They had been driven on shore in one of the ship's boats, and taken at some distance along the coast.
The interpreter was permitted to converse with them. They proved to be the four brave fellows who had made such desperate defence from the cabin. The interpreter gathered from them some of the particulars already related. They told him, further, that after they had beaten off the enemy and cleared the ship, Lewis advised that they should slip the cable and endeavour to get to sea. They declined to take his advice, alleging that the wind set too strongly into the bay, and would drive them on shore. They resolved, as soon as it was dark, to put off quietly in the ship's boat, which they would be able to do unperceived, and to coast along back to Astoria. They put their resolution into effect; but Lewis refused to accompany them, being disabled by his wound, hopeless of escape, and determined on a terrible revenge.
On the voyage out, he had repeatedly expressed a presentiment that he should die by his own hands, thinking it highly probable that he should be engaged in some contest with the natives; and being resolved, in case of extremity, to commit suicide rather than be made a prisoner. He now declared his intention to remain on board of the ship until daylight, to decoy as many of the savages on board as possible, then to set fire to the powder-magazine, and terminate his life by a signal act of vengeance.
How well he succeeded has been shewn. His companions bade him a melancholy adieu, and set off on their precarious expedition. They strove with might and main to get out of the bay, but found it impossible to weather a point of land, and were at length compelled to take shelter in some small cove, where they hoped to remain concealed until the wind should be more favourable. Exhausted by fatigue and watching, they fell into a sound sleep, and in that state were surprised by the savages. Better had it been for those unfortunate men had they remained with Lewis, and shared his heroic death. As it was, they perished in a more painful and protracted manner, being sacrificed by the natives to the manes of their friends with all the lingering tortures of savage cruelty. Some time after their death, the interpreter, who had remained a kind of prisoner at large, effected his escape, and brought the tragical tidings to Astoria.
Such is the melancholy story of the Tonquin, and such was the fate of her brave but headstrong commander and adventurous crew. It is a catastrophe that shews the importance, in all enterprises of moment, to keep in mind the general instructions of the sagacious heads which devise them.
Mr Astor was well aware of the perils to which ships were exposed on this coast from quarrels with the natives, and from perfidious attempts of the latter to surprise and capture them in unguarded moments. He had repeatedly enjoined it upon Captain Thorn in conversation, and, at parting, in his letter of instructions, to be courteous and kind in his dealings with the savages, but by no means to confide in their apparent friendship, nor to admit more than a few on board of his ship at a time. Had the deportment of Captain Thorn been properly regulated, the insult, so wounding to savage pride, would never have been given; had he enforced the rule to admit but a few at a time, the savages would not have been able to get the mastery. He was too irritable, however, to practise the necessary self-command; and, having been nurtured in a proud contempt of danger, thought it beneath him to manifest any fear of a crew of unarmed savages. Hence the melancholy result.