Archive for November 6th, 2008

November 6, 2008

While on the subject of shipwreck/island books

Here’s a charming little section from the Ballantyne one. Incidentally, this was published in 1857.


In a second the boat was lowered and manned by a part of the crew, who were all armed with cutlasses and pistols. As the captain passed me to get into it he said, “Jump into the stern-sheets, Ralph; I may want you.” I obeyed, and in ten minutes more we were standing on the stranger’s deck. We were all much surprised at the sight that met our eyes. Instead of a crew of such sailors as we were accustomed to see, there were only fifteen blacks, standing on the quarter-deck, and regarding us with looks of undisguised alarm. They were totally unarmed, and most of them unclothed. One or two, however, wore portions of European attire. One had on a pair of duck trousers, which were much too large for him, and stuck out in a most ungainly manner; another wore nothing but the common, scanty, native garment round the loins and a black beaver hat; but the most ludicrous personage of all, and one who seemed to be chief, was a tall, middle-aged man, of a mild, simple expression of countenance, who wore a white cotton shirt, a swallow-tailed coat, and a straw hat, while his black, brawny legs were totally uncovered below the knees.

“Where’s the commander of this ship?” inquired our captain, stepping up to this individual.

“I is cap’in,” he answered, taking off his straw hat and making a low bow.

“You!” said our captain in surprise. “Where do you come from, and where are you bound? What cargo have you aboard?”

“We is come,” answered the man with the swallow-tail, “from Aitutaki; we was go for Rarotonga. We is native miss’nary ship; our name is de Olive Branch; an’ our cargo is two tons cocoa-nuts, seventy pigs, twenty cats, and de Gosp’l.”

This announcement was received by the crew of our vessel with a shout of laughter, which, however, was peremptorily checked by the captain, whose expression instantly changed from one of severity to that of frank urbanity as he advanced towards the missionary and shook him warmly by the hand.

“I am very glad to have fallen in with you,” said he, “and I wish you much success in your missionary labours. Pray take me to your cabin, as I wish to converse with you privately.”

The missionary immediately took him by the hand, and as he led him away I heard him saying, “me most glad to find you trader; we t’ought you be pirate. You very like one ’bout the masts.”

In a book about civilising savage people of colour by making Christians out of them, it’s heartening to learn that, once converted, they’re merely hilarious.