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FIRST MISSIONARY STATION AT
THE island of Tahiti, formerly called Otaheite, has been lately the subject of intense interest in consequence of some unjustifiable proceedings carried on there by the French authorities, by which it has been extorted from the hands of the native queen and her advisers. It is situate, as most of our readers are aware, in the Pacific Ocean, between the 149th and 150th degree of west longitude, and the 17th and 18th of south latitude. The island is divided by an isthmus called Terrawow, into two principal parts; the larger and more northerly of which is nearly circular; the other, which projects from the south-eastern part, is pyriform or pear-shaped.
It is presumed that Tahiti was unknown to Europe until Capt. Wallis, of H. M. ship Dolphin discovered it on the 19th June, 1767. After slight hostilities, provoked by the thievish propensities and reckless insubordination of the natives, the ship was moored abreast of the river of Mattavai, a district near the VOL. VI. 4th SERIES.
northernmost point of the island, and Lieutenant Furneaux having landed, erected a British pennant on the shore, and formally took possession of the island in the name of his own sovereign.
In the spring of 1768, Tahiti was visited by the French, who were received with kindness; and, after about a week's stay, departed without making any formal claim to the island.
Exactly twelve months after this last event, Lieutenant Cook, in the Endeavour, anchored at Mattavai Bay, and continued off the place for about three months, having carried out a scientific expedition for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus, and investigating the physical character of the country and its natural productions.
Shortly after his departure, Capt. Cook arrived in the Resolution, anchoring off the southern peninsula. He again visited the island on the 22nd April, 1774, and 13th August, 1777, and was the means of introducing some English cattle there, various domestic fowls, and a few garden seeds. In the interval between these latter dates, two Spanish ships called off the island and the commander having died there, was buried on shore near a cross inscribed Christus vincit; and Carolus III. Imperat, 1774.
Lieutenant Watts, in the Lady Penrhyn, was the next Englishman who touched at Tahiti, anchoring at Mattavai on the 10th July, 1788. He was followed in the same year by Lieutenant Bligh of the Bounty; the singular history of whose mutinous crew is too well known to need repetition. The report of this affair brought over, in the spring of 1791, the Pandora frigate for the purpose of looking after the mutineers, several of whom were captured and brought away for England. The Dædalus store-ship was the last British vessel which called there, before the arrival of the Duff, which was despatched in 1796 with a body of missionaries, their wives and children, under the command of Captain James Wilson.
This individual, who in his younger days was one of the most daring and avowed infidels, but afterwards, by God's grace, became a burning and shining light in the Christian church, was born in the year 1760. He discovered, in early life, a strong predilection for sea-service; and, while a young man, entered the navy, and served in the American war. On returning
to Europe, he passed into the service of the East India Company, and sailed to Bengal as mate of one of the Company's ships. His reputation was already high as a brave man and a skilful mariner; and, immediately on his arrival in the East, it procured him friends and promotion. He was sent to the Nicobar islands as the bearer of important despatches, and might have easily obtained such a permanent quiet post as would have secured him a fair income, had he not preferred to fight his way to higher favor through arduous service, and a bold defiance of imminent dangers. The British troops, under Sir Eyre Coote, being in hazard of starvation, their supplies being cut off by a French squadron at sea, and by the army of Hyder Ali on land, the governor of Madras offered Mr. Wilson four hundred pagodas if he would undertake to carry some ships, with provisions, past the enemy's fleet for their relief. Mr. Wilson accomplished the feat, earning by it about a thousand pounds in money, and a vast increase of the sort of fame which was likely to lead to great wealth.
Captain Wilson, after making this very lucrative adventure, felt satisfied that he could not do better than play the same game as many times over as possible. He accordingly availed himself of his reputation, to procure constant employment in conveying provisions or military stores through such passages as were watched or guarded by the enemy. Often did he elude danger, but eventually fell into the hands of the French, and was carried prisoner to Cuddalore. He, however, effected his escape, was retaken, and carried to Seringapatam, where he was treated with merciless severity. His imprisonment here lasted twenty-two months, and was brought to an end through the victories of Sir Eyre Coote.
Captain Wilson, as soon as his enfeebled strength would admit of his removal, joined some of his countrymen, and proceeded to Madras.
As before, his whole ambition was to acquire wealth, reckless of any danger to which it might expose him; and for eighteen months he continued to stake his life on successive casts for gain, and was always a winner, his health and safety passing almost, or altogether, with impunity. He was adroit as well as daring. Having become both sharer and commander of a ship, he, on one occasion, took advantage of a sudden shift of the wind to get a
long start of a fleet of merchantmen bound for the same port as himself; and, arriving at his destination without a competitor, the market before him empty, and the demand brisk for the goods with which he was cargoed, he sold his stock at vastly high prices, and by one speculation realized, in a few days, what many a man would have pronounced a handsome fortune. Even he himself began to think that he had at last secured as much wealth as would procure him all the possible comforts of life; and, being now in full possession of what he esteemed the chief good, he resolved to leave India, and embarked, in the year 1794, as a passenger for England.
His conversion appears to have been effected chiefly by the instrumentality of the Rev. J. Griffin, of Portsea, of whose church he became a member in 1796. He, immediately after, took part in the formation and early operations of the London Missionary Society; and, in August of the same year, he sailed, as we have just stated, from the river Thames, as commander of the Society's ship Duff, to plant Missionary settlements in Tahiti and other islands of the South Seas. From this engagement he was released in 1798, and died on the 12th August, 1814.
well known, that
The subsequent history of this Mission is so we do not think it necessary to recapitulate it. But as the claim of our nation to Tahiti has been of late the subject of much interest, we cannot withhold Captain Wilson's account of the cession of Mattavai to our Missionaries on the 16th of March, 1797.
"This being the day appointed by Pomarre for ceding in form the district of Mattavai to the English, the captain landed on Point Venus, was there received by the chief, and conducted near to the missionary house. Most of the brethren from the ship, and all on shore, were present at the ceremony. Peter the Swede, took, as usual, the office of interpreter. The scene was laid before the door of the missionary house (see the cut); at some distance from which, a rope was stretched to keep off the crowd; Pomarre, Iddeah, Otoo, his wife, and brothers, went also without the ropes. Manne Manne, who alone acted the part of conveyancer, remained within with the captain and brethren. He then desired Peter to tell the captain all that he should say, and began by prefacing his oration with towa! towa! (hear!)