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precise locality of that land which they were the first to call Australia.
As regards maritime enterprise in the Coral Seas, no traffic has ever done more towards the progress of discovery than the tripang trade of China, not even excepting the whale fishery. The whale-men generally do but find islands, while the bêche-de-mer fishers land and live upon them until their cargoes are completed, and thus are enabled to supply information not otherwise obtainable.
I have stated that the price of bêche-de-mer in the markets ranges from £60 to £80 or even £100 a ton ; these fluctuations are not altogether owing to the laws of supply and demand.
There is always a great demand for tripang, and the difference in price has generally occurred from the quality of this stimulating delicacy. Of course this is a circumstance over which the fishers have little or no control ; but John Chinaman will never pay £80 a ton for tripang, which is not of a most luxurious description.
Bêche-de-mer fishing is one of the favourite avocations of the better class of Pacific wanderers, who, if permanent residents on any of its countless islands, would be called beachcombers. They are usually rough and wild fellows, but very hospitable and generous, dividing their profits as a
as a rule very much to the satisfaction of the Polynesians with whom they work in concert. It may be noted that a thoroughly mean and sordid man can never get on with the islanders. As the natives divide their little gains among their friends, so when a papalagi goes into a sort of partnership with them, they expect him to be equally openbirds eggs.
handed. These men are usually poor, but possess great power among the savage tribes. It is a common practice with them to build small crafts with the assistance of the natives, and in this sort of vessel to cruise from one desert island to another, carrying cocoa-nuts for provender, and eking out the rest of their subsistence by means of fish, turtle, and sea
When they reach an atoll which produces bêche-de-mer in anything like abundance, they will settle down there for a few months, or it may be a year or two, and cure and store it up until some passing vessel chances to call and purchase it. If no ship calls, they will fill their little craft with as much as she can carry, and set sail for some larger island where there is a trading station, and bargain for a vessel to come down and fetch the remainder. I have heard many a curious story about these strange nineteenth century voluntary Crusoes. The scene of one of the best of these was in the Kingsmill Group, where a friend of mine had a conversation with a man of this kind relative to the best way of cooking a crayfish. .
We,' said he, are used to cooking them in an oven of hot stones, but white men mostly like them boiled in a pot.'
It was evident that his mind was in somewhat of a fog as to whether himself had any claim to be reckoned among the sons of Japhet. Another dates from the island of Manuai, where a bêche-de-mer fisherman asked him to read a certain paper for him.
• Were you never taught to read ?' inquired my friend, who was no less an authority than the late Mr. Sterndale.
"Oh yes,' he replied. “I had a good schooling once, but it's so long ago that I don't know English from Dutch when it's wrote down.'
This man's son (who spoke good English) remarked that he should like very much to be able to read. Mr. Sterndale, with a prophetic vision of a school board for Coral Lands, and a shilling in the pound rate, rejoined :
‘Don't you try to know too much ; knowledge is only a lot of bother.'
“Oh,' said the lad, 'but I should like to read the Bible ; there's good stories in it, 'specially that part about the pirates.'
Indeed,' said Mr. Sterndale, you must be mistaken ; there's no such thing in the Bible.'
• Oh yes,' continued the son ; 'don't you remember Robinson Crusoe gets taken by the Turkish pirate ?'
Mr. Sterndale says he laughed very much, but was quite unable to convince the boy of his mistake. He further said that a seaman who had been cast away upon
his father's island used to read the tale aloud to them from a large book ; "and I know,' added he conclusively, that this book was a Bible, for it was nearly half as big as a brandy-case.'
Besides these semi-barbarous adventurers, there are many shipmasters and merchants who have been long used to sail vessels, from thirty to one hundred tons, chiefly out of the ports of Tahiti, Honolulu, Guam (where Hayes came to grief), or Manilla, in quest of bêche-de-mer, whose practice it is to frequent such lagoon atolls as it is possible to anchor within. There they lie up for months until their cargo is
complete. They land their trypots and other requisites, build some palm-leaf huts to lodge their men, and a smoke-house for the curing of the fish, and have usually a good time of it. The labour of collecting and drying the fish is performed partly by their crews
commonly Polynesian natives—with the exception of the mate and perhaps a trading-master and interpreter. To these are added aborigines if the island is inhabited, or natives they bring with them if it is deserted. Women are in great requisition on these expeditions, they being well up to the work, willing and good tempered, and much more easily controlled than men.
Traders who have much experience of this pursuit universally admit the desirability of engaging an equal number of women to that of the men concerned in the enterprise. A neglect of this arrangement has, in many instances, led to serious quarrels.
There can be no doubt this sort of life has a charm which dwellers in the Babel of civilisation might be at a loss to comprehend. Bêche-de-mer fishing has never been an experience of my own, but I can quite understand, from what I know of the Pacific, that it must be most enjoyable for those who love to break away for a time from the daily routine of office, library, or plantation.
It has been well said by a bêche-de-mer authority who combined literary ability with his special knowledge, that 'to spend one's days in a rock-bound haven where the waters are eternally at rest, no matter what storms may raise the sea which rolls outside the coral barrier ; to run about bare-foot upon silvery sands, where the cool sea breeze all the
the sultriness of the tropic sunshine ; to paddle about on the still waters of a calm lagoon, whose limpid waves display beneath them an infinity of strange and beautiful forms; to sleep softly and to dream sweetly, sung to rest by the ceaseless sounding of the distant sea and rustling of the night wind among the feathery palms ; to know nothing of what is going on in the outer world, and to care as little ; to have no ideas beyond those included within the horizon of vision ; to climb to the summit of some lofty tree and to see at one glance all which constitutes for ourselves the material universe' is indeed to revel in nature, and nature as she only exists in Coral Lands.
There is this advantage in bêche-de-mer fishing, that upon the great desert reefs, where it most abounds, the fishers never need be idle. In calm weather they gather the red kind off the top of the reef, just inside the foam of the breakers ; in stormy times they dive for the black species inside the lagoon. From its size and colour it is plainly visible to a depth of at least ten fathoms, even when the water is much ruffled by the wind—the more so, as it lives only on the smooth, sandy white bottom. The material required for the prosecution of this business is of the most simple character—merely a boat, a few axes to cut building materials and firewood, a supply of long knives for all hands, and, in some cases, two or three of the great cast-iron boilers (or trypots), such as are used on board whale-ships, and forks with many prongs, of the same sort as gold-diggers use, and buckets. The preliminary operation is to build two houses-one for the curing of the fish, which is done by smoking, and