Bond’s observations of Pacific Islanders

Francis Godolphin Bond and his Log of the Providence: Interactions with, and Observations about, the Pacific Islanders taken from Bond’s log book

(courtesy of the former


Log for 13 April 1792, 3 pm. (re islanders attacking each other.)

‘The Natives were observed daily to make attacks on the enemy, as one parish might assault another in England, but little danger attended those expeditions; and the death of one or two men made a blooedy campaign.’

June 5 1792, 7pm,

‘Set off severaly Sky Rockets &c. at the Post, and 2 Balloons made by Mr. Tobin, to amuse the Natives.’

June 9, 1792, 5pm.

‘Many Natives on board as usual; and at sunset Ladies dancing the Haeva.’

17 July 1793. Extended quote written in the entry for Bond’s last day in Tahiti.

‘So much has already been said of the island of Otaheite by Captain Cook, that very little remains for the cursory Voyager, indeed that celebrated navigator displayed the greatest sagacity in all the observations he made on this wonderful country; for every acute observer must allow his account of the manners and customs of the natives of the South Seas to be unequaled for truth and precision. In examining minutely into the ceremony of their religious sacrifices and publick festivals, we found the strictest varacity in every thing he had advanced, and it was with admiration we reflected on that wonderful penetration which so conspicuously marked this great man. For my own part, when I consider it necessary to strengthen my future memory by a few remarks, however desultory they may be, I readily embrace the opportunity sur le champ, and attempt to arrange my ideas, collected during a stay of near four months, in the following lines.

‘Otaheite, by the inhabitants called Taheide, is about 30 miles in length, of two unequal roundish portions, joined by a very narrow isthmus. The centre of the island is mountainous, gradually decreasing towards the shore by hill and dale, running in the same direction. A margin of flat land, of very little elevation, nearly surrounds those hills, whose soil is exceedingly bountiful, and gives birth to innumerable Cocoa Nut, Bread fruit, Otaheite Apple, Plantain, and other fruit trees; and there is such luxuriance, that the hospitable islander receives untoiled for abundance within a few yards of his own dwelling. Promiscuously scattered in this forest of delight, are the houses of the Natives — a roof, thatched with the cocoa-nut branch leaves of the [serauj?] Pine, or a long tough grass, and supported uniformly by posts or pillars, leaving the sides quite open which gives a free passage to the breeze. They sometimes make a kind of close railing of small bamboo which is meant chiefly to protect them from being annoyed, when sleeping, by their domestic animals; for here the hog strolls about with more familiar ease, than the cur in European towns. A vast number of rivers descend from the summit of the hills like so many radii, forming landscapes highly romantic. In many parts the mountains seem to perpend, and make the scene awfully pleasing; while the meandering stream glides through the bountiful valley, dividing the fruitful groves and scattered hamlets. In many places huge rocks arrests its course; till overflowing their union, it precipitates in wild cascades, and loses its impetuosity in the greater expanse; and placidly joins the sea. Although the climate be warm, the air is truely benign, for the Otaheitean sleeps exposed to the night dew, without the danger of disease attendant on most other tropical countries: even our own seamen that followed this alarming custom found no bad effects attend their indiscretion.

‘The stature of the natives is of the middling size, many of whom had a tolerable degree of corpulency, and but very few carried the appearance of using spare diet or violent exercise. Their complexions varied according to the occupations they followed, or the stock from which they sprung, for the sun-bur[n]t fisherman only one degree above the negro, presented his professional tribute to his chief of a light copper colour. Notwithstanding the influence of the sun on those most exposed to his fervor, it was often observed that the domestic had a lighter shade than his master. Many of the ladies might have passed in colour for damsels of Italy; and had their noses been more aquiline, for charming brunettes; but here beauty made a stand, and refused that pleasing auxiliary to the natives of the South Seas. Their lips also have something of the African characteristic, but their eye sparkling with inexplicable softness give a wonderful prepossession, and shew their mild attempered souls. One would suppose two different people to have migrated to this happy isle, where you may observe the long black hair, and the frizzle, but it is difficult to ascertain which predominates — the royal family are of the latter. It has been a general and true observation, that the otaheitean women have the handsomest arm and hand of any nation yet know — their feet cannot claim that preference, since a want of shoes naturally cause an expansion of that part. The men are active and expert in boxing, wrestling, &c. but that natural good heart which they universally possess, makes them always restrain their passion, and give over before too much irritated by long play. Even the spectators at those festivals are equally anxious to prevent quarrels, which so much delight the rabble in England and other countries. In war it cannot be said these hospitable men are either fierce, or powerful, yet it has been proved on many occasions that no danger will dismay them; and this particularly in acts of theft, a practice on Europeans often countenanced and in which for address they would have done honor to Sparta.

‘Three weeks before our arrival, the crew of the Matilda, a whaler, had sought refuge (after the ship had been stranded on a low unknown island to the eastward) in this happy country. The inhabitants from an irresistable desire to possess fire Arms & other articles, had seized upon the property of the unfortunate Englishmen but in lieu presented them with the necessary commodities of their own manufactory to keep off the rays of the sun, and cold of the night breezes; while their fostering hands procured for them the vegetable & animal wealth of their land: thus without the trouble of gathering the fruit from the trees, or dressing their own barbecue [bag?] a sumptuous repast was regularly prepared for them. Abundance has made this a Luxurious and indolent nation, for most of the time is spent in sleeping and feeding. The Taro ([Coseos?] root) Aveeh and Paper Mulberry, demand some attendance, and are laid out with great regularity, but very few other plants need the least assistance, and grows spontaneously throughout the island. The only quadrupeds are hogs, goats, dogs, cats, and rats, for the horned cattle left here by Captain Cook were taken away by Christian, in the Bounty, to propagate the Lord knows where. There is but a small collection of Land fowl at Otaheite, among which are tolerable quantities of cocks & hens, & also wild duck. Of fish there is a very great variety, and great plenty which is an article the natives are exceedingly fond of; and their apparatus for catching them no ways inferior to our own: even their seines are made with the proper fisherman’s knot; and they have them near 100 fathoms long. The principal articles of food are hogs & fish; plantain, Cocoa Nut & other puddings; breadfruit, Tarro, Mahee (a kind of hard dumpling made of baked fermented breadfruit) with several fruits — Their chief drink the milk of the young cocoa nut. As most nations have an intoxicating article to stupify them, when the mind is inactive and unable to bear the weight of reflection; so these poor deluded creatures from nifarious custom, solace themselves with their aveh. As this is the most filthy potation, as well as deleterious in its effects, I will dwell a little on the subject, and mention a circumstance or two relative thereto.

‘It is a large fibrous root weighing from a half to three four, or more pounds. The taste is pungent and burning, and what might be supposed, highly disagreeable. Particular domestics are kept by the chiefs to prepare their nectar, by first chewing the root, and spitting it into a cocoa nut shell. When a sufficient quantity is thus far prepared, it is enclosed in the fibres of the cocoa nut or some fine kind of grass, when it is washed in the cocoa nut milk held in a tray for the purpose; then the juices and finer particles wrung out, while the course & undigestible parts remain in the grass, and are with it thrown away. It is diluted agreeable to the taste of the maker, when the assembly sit round and drink their champaine. In a short time the most part of them grow stupid and become convulsed, while the sweat runs down their faces with ye agitation of their frames. In this situation ’tis a common thing to be told it is very delectable — that their heads are turning round, and that they forget their cares & troubles; which at last ends in a disturbed sleep, and most probably with confused dreams. A continuance of this custom makes them filthy, weak, and diseased. The frame becomes emaciated, palsied, and unsightly, while the skin is covered with scabs & [?] like one in the leprosy. An Otaheitean will boast of his conseqance [consequence?], and as a badge of it, shew you his skin destroyed by drinking aveh, for this is but seldom within the compass of the common people. The temptation to purloin this root is excessive; for we found the chiefs at all times perfer [prefer] leaving their treasure in the hands of their Tyos, than trust it on shore among those who were nearest allied to them. It certainly gave us great satisfaction to find their confidence so great in Englishmen, for we had many instances of their high opinion of our integrity and veracity.

‘Swimming is one of their principal amusements as well as necessary customs; where ablution is performed by them several times a day, which adds much to the wholesomeness of their persons, and totally prevents that offensive smell so common to people inhabiting tropical countries. In their Haivas they represent with great humour the follies of their visitors, as well as their domestic scenes; for mimickry is acquired by them with great facility, and much genius. Their dances are graceful and lacivious – those of the men by wonderful contorsions of the body & limbs, and most extravagant gestures of the countenance. The Drum & flute their chief music; the latter highly pathetic and plaintive. A native of the district of Matavy (Owavy, properly called) whose name is Tupira, and who had accompanied Christian on his expedition to the island of Toobooai, finding his influence increased by a knowledge of fire arms, joined the chief of the same part, to shake off the yoke of subjection to the reigning king. Accordingly when the Matilda’s people landed as mentioned in the preceding pages, they got from them five muskets & some ammunition. A formal demand was made by Otoo the sovereign at Oparree, for the arms alluded to, which on the part of Poeerow & Tupire, was peremtorily refused. In consequence of which, on our arrival at Matavy Bay, we found both armies in the field, that is to say, in a state of hostility. Several rencountres had taken place before we made our appearance, but every skirmish ended without much damage to either party. These effeminate sons of luxury, like the quarrels of school boys, seldom did more than sling stones at each other; by which, few disabled warriors returned from the field; and it was but seldom they dared charge their enemies with the [Oomooree?], which is an unweildly [unwieldy] club of about 9 or 10 feet long. The presence of Captain Bligh soon put a period to the rebellion, tho a jealousy continued to reign in the bosoms of each party; and during the whole campaine only one man lost his life, and that by a musket ball.

‘A custom which disgraces humanity still remains among these enlightened indians; and this was thought a very proper time for an expiatory offering. A human sacrifice was immediately made on the occasions, and the chief part of the ceremony performed in the presence of some of officers of both vessels. When this is to take place, the chief who makes the offering causes some of his domestics to lay in ambush and knock in the head one of his subjects who is most obnoxious to the people. This being executed, the body is wrapped in cocoa nut leaves, tied to a bamboo, and carryed to the morai or place of religious ceremony, perhaps at the expiration of two, three, or more days. A respectable meeting of the principle chiefs ensue, and much discourse is observed while the high priest repeats several prayers to the Eatooa or god, in which he relates the noble actions of all the celebrated warriors for some generations back, while their living friends are recommended to his godship’s protection and favor. A large pig is generally strangled, the bowels taken out, and the body smeared with the coagulated blood. It is singed over a fire, the heart, liver &c. put on the embers and then carried to the alter to constitute a second part of the service. It is next laid on the [?] or place of offering, where it remains with perhaps fifty more that have been put there at different times, to appease the wrath of the Deity. When this is performed, every latitude is given to the audience, and much mirth is carried on among themselves; and if a stranger happens to be present he is treated sumptuously, and amused by humourous sarcasms.

‘If the Otaheiteans have not shown more ingenuity in the manufactury of the articles which are found on the island than their neighbours of the south seas, it is because abundance has deprived them of the resources of necessity; which according to the old adage, is the mother of invention. In many points we have had reason to believe them equal to European artists, for some of their war clubs, parries, taumees, cordage, hair nets, &c. &c. are wrought with great precision and judgement. They pass great part of their time on the sea, which affords them a plentiful supply of fish, with the produce of tributary islands. As to their nautical abilities, little can be advanced thereon, since it was impossible to learn the particulars of an art when we understood the language but imperfectly. We found them possessed of the knowledge of the four cardinal, and intermediate points. Of the most conspicuous part of several constellations, by which they know the situation of many contiguous islands. The seasons in which it was most practicable to navigate the seas, seem to be sufficiently observed by them to make useful destinations on that head; but I found by inquiry that their canoes were not equal to turning to windward against a strong sea breeze, which was done with great success in their harbours, and in smooth water along shore.

‘The knowledge of their religion may be considered more difficult to understand than any other thing which concerns the history of our sable friends; all that can be with prudence advanced on that head is, that they agree in the existence of a supreme Being, capable of inflicting severe punishment in this world, by visitation of disease, famine, and other calamities; but after dissolution the chiefs are the only persons who partake of omnipotent benefaction. The inferior class are supposed to suffer annihilation after death, and although they are not stimulated to virtuous and benevolent actions by the hope of salvation, parental instruction has so permanently formed the minds of the whole community, that a mutual exchange of good & kind actions among themselves, is the most conspicuous mark of the Otaheitean character. The mode of disposing of their dead depends chiefly on the rank of the person deceased; since those who have independence and property, have also the privilege of the toopapow, a kind of stage four or five feet high, enclosed by railing of bamboo reed. Here the body remains exposed to publick view, while offerings of pork, breadfruit, &c are made to the Eatua, or God. The lower class are buried according to European custom, and it is said some delinquents are thrown into the sea. We were informed of but four grand distinctions among them — the Area, Ratteera, Mannahoona, and Towtow. These may be nearly classed with the Nobility, Esquires, Farmers, and servants.

‘Before I conclude this topic which I have imperceptibly drawn myself into, I must observe that these happy islanders are visited by very few diseases, and those seldom of that malignant nature which destroy so many of out countrymen. Yet we fine in this salubrious climate a scourge which mankind can never avert, and seems nearly general throughout the world, where an intercourse has taken place between different nations. The venereal disorder is accompanied by another equally dreadful in it effects; for the scrophula rages with great violence among them without their being able to retard its course. In the rainy seasons they are troubled with coughs, catarrhs, & sometimes consumption — the latter is not very frequent. Their language is soft, harmonious & pleasing, and for the common purposes of barter and friendly intercourse, not hard to learn; however, the chiefs have a superior choice of words and phrases which requires some time and great attention to be a tolerable proficient in. Upon the whole this may be said to be the most desirable place of refreshment of any hitherto known; and besides the gracious reception which the natives give all visitors, the island is capable of producing the choicest and most delicious fruits, tho’ the variety is not great. Good water, abundance of the best flavored pork, and vast quantities of most kinds of fish are likewise to be found in Otaheite, where the fair are every endeavour to render themselves useful, and agreeable.’

After leaving Tahiti further collecting is mentioned in Bond’s log book August 6, 1792:

‘At 2 a Canoe with 2 men came alongside and brought a few Cocoa nuts &c. and at daylight another with 4 men came on board – a few curiosities were gained from them which were much the same as the Friendly Islands’.

(Bond is referring here to what he and Tobin had called Sunday Island, the easternmost island in the Fiji group, and not what is now known as Sunday Island in the Kermadecs.)

Bond only refers to ‘curiosities’ but in his own Log Bligh recorded this event and mentioned acquiring ‘spears and clubs’ at this time – According to Ida Lee

‘A canoe came off to us with two men in her who bartered without reserve a few cocoanuts for toweys and nails. I paid them well, and as I expected they were off in the morning and came back with two other men and sold us many more nuts and some spears and clubs.’

Collecting in the ‘Endeavour Streights’ (now known as Torres Straits) towards Timor, 7 Sep 1792:

‘Moderate breezes and fair weather with haze. A Canoe came along side and bartered their weapons &c. for Iron work, and behaved themselves exceedly well, while three or 4 others had visited the Brig with equal honesty’

5 pm Sep 9 1792, Endeavour Streights:

‘Several Natives, to the number of 40 seen on the beach some of whom had green [bonnets?] in their hands. Sent the Cutter & Whale boat well manned & armed to form some intercourse, if possible. The Indians laid by their Bows, and approached the boats without fear, many Nails, Toe[y]s &c. were given them, and in return got only a few baskets of a kind of Date, which appears to be the chief support of these Islanders, with the Fish they procure from the reefs.’

11 Sep 1792, 1 pm. In Providence Streights [sic]:

‘Fresh breezes and fair weather the Assistant made ye signal for assistance – Fired several Great Guns and Muskets at about 11 Canoes which came off to attack the Boats these employed Sounding &c. Saw the Indians out of some of their Canoes, swimming, while many others were so much terrified that they remained in the bottom of their Vessels. Several balls were heard to strike their Men of War; and blood was seen very distinctly – They kep aloof and were much surprised at this new mode of fighting – and it was with much [?] we were even reduced to this melancholy alternative of chastising a treacherous nation.’

4 pm

‘Found that three men had been wounded by the arrows of the natives; and that the Assistant was the object of their attack; [?] some arrows were found sticking in different parts of the Brig, for this breach of hospitality had commenced when the Assistant’s expected a friendly visit – The larger canoes came within hail of us, and endeavoured to persuade us to come on shore, whence they made signs of havng abundance of water & Provisions – they had even the audacity to let fly a few arrows at Providence but the distance was too great to alarm us.’

This is followed up on Sep 24 at 5 pm:

‘Spoke the Assistant and found that W. W. Terry Seaman, one of the three persons wounded by the Arrows of the Indians at Dungeness Road, had died the night before last, and was burried yesterday morning – the two others were almost recovered.’