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The Mystery Of Easter Island
THE VOYAGE TO EASTER ISLAND
FIG. 1. — MANA.
Charua Bay, Patagonian Channels
Why we went to Easter Island — The Building and Equipping of the Yacht — The Start from Southampton — Dartmouth — Falmouth.
"All the seashore is lined with numbers of stone idols, with their backs turned towards the sea, which caused us no little wonder, because we saw no tool of any kind for working these figures." So wrote, a century and a half ago, one of the earliest navigators to visit the Island of Easter in the South-east Pacific. Ever since that day passing ships have found it incomprehensible that a few hundred natives should have been able to make, move, and erect numbers of great stone monuments, some of which are over thirty feet in height; they have marvelled and passed on. As the world's traffic has increased Easter Island has still stood outside its routes, quiet and remote, with its story undeciphered. What were these statues of which the present inhabitants know nothing? Were they made by their ancestors in forgotten times or by an earlier race? Whence came the people who reached this remote spot? Did they arrive from South America, 2,000 miles to the eastward? Or did they sail against the prevailing wind from the distant islands to the west? It has even been conjectured that Easter Island is all that remains of a sunken continent. Fifty years ago the problem was increased by the discovery on this mysterious land of wooden tablets bearing an unknown script; they too have refused to yield their secret.
When, therefore, we decided to see the Pacific before we died, and asked the anthropological authorities at the British Museum what work there remained to be done, the answer was, "Easter Island." It was a much larger undertaking than had been contemplated; we had doubts of our capacity for so important a venture; and at first the decision was against it, but we hesitated and were lost. Then followed the problem how to reach the goal. The island belongs to Chile, and the only regular communication, if regular it can be called, was a small sailing vessel sent out by the Chilean Company, who use the island as a ranch; she went sometimes once a year, sometimes not so often, and only remained there sufficient time to bring off the wool crop. We felt that the work on Easter ought to be accompanied with the possibility of following up clues elsewhere in the islands, and that to charter any such vessel as could be obtained on the Pacific coast, for the length of time we required her, would be unsatisfactory, both from the pecuniary standpoint and from that of comfort. It was therefore decided, as Scoresby is a keen yachtsman, that it was worth while to procure in England a little ship of our own, adapted to the purpose, and to sail out in her. As the Panama Canal was not open, and the route by Suez would be longer, the way would lie through the Magellan Straits.
Search for a suitable vessel in England was fruitless, and it became clear that to get what we wanted we must build. The question of general size and arrangement had first to be settled, and then matters of detail. It is unfortunate that the precise knowledge which was acquired of the exact number of inches necessary to sleep on, to sit on, and to walk along is not again likely to be useful. The winter of 1910-11 was spent over this work, but the professional assistance obtained proved to be incompetent, and we had to begin again; the final architect of the little yacht was Mr. Charles Nicholson, of Gosport, and the plans were completed the following summer. They were for a vessel of schooner rig and auxiliary motor power The length over all was 90 feet, and the water-line 72 feet; her beam was 20 feet. The gross tonnage was 91 and the yacht tonnage was 126.
The vessel was designed in four compartments, with a steel bulkhead between each of the divisions, so that in case of accident it would be possible to keep her afloat. Aft was the little chart-room, which was the pride of the ship. When we went on board magnificent yachts which could have carried our little vessel as a lifeboat, and found the navigation being done in the public rooms, we smiled with superiority. Out of the chart-room were the navigator's sleeping quarters, and in the overhang of the stern the sail-locker. The next compartment was given to the engines, and made into a galvanised iron box in case of fire. It contained a motor engine for such work as navigation in and out of harbour and traversing belts of calm. This was of 38 h.p. and run on paraffin, as petrol was disallowed by the insurance; it gave her 5½ knots. In the same compartment was the engine for the electric light: in addition the yacht had steam heating. The spaces between the walls of the engine-box and those of the ship were given to lamps, and to boatswain's stores.
Then came the centre of the ship, containing the quarters of our scientific party. The middle portion of this was raised three or four feet for the whole length, securing first a deckhouse and then a heightened roof for the saloon below, an arrangement which was particularly advantageous, as no portholes were allowed below decks, leaving us dependent on skylights and ventilators. Entering from without, two or three steps led down into the deck-house, which formed part of the saloon, but at a higher level; it was my chief resort throughout the voyage. On each side was a settee, which was on the level of the deck, and thus commanded a view through port-holes and door of what was passing outside; one of these settees served as a berth in hot weather. A small companion connected the deck-house with the saloon below: the latter ran across the width of the ship; it also had full-length settees both sides, and at the end of each was a chiffonier. On the port side was the dinner-table, which swung so beautifully that the fiddles were seldom used, and the thermos for the navigating officer could be left happily on it all night. Starboard was a smaller table, fitted for writing; and a long bookshelf ran along the top of the for'ardside (fig. 1A).
On the afterside of the saloon a double cabin opened out of it, and a passage led to two single cabins and the bathroom. The cabins were rather larger than the ordinary staterooms of a mail steamer, and the arrangements of course more ample; every available cranny was utilised for drawers and lockers, and in going ashore it was positive pain to see the waste of room under beds and sofas and behind washing-stands. My personal accommodation was a chest of drawers and hanging wardrobe, besides the drawers under the berth and various lockers. Returning to the saloon, a door for'ard opened into the pantry, which communicated with the galley above, situated on deck for the sake of coolness. For'ard again was a whole section given to stores, and beyond, in the bows, a roomy forecastle. The yacht had three boats — a lifeboat which contained a small motor engine, a cutter, and a dinghy; when we were at sea the two former were placed on deck, but the dinghy, except on one occasion only, was always carried in the davits, where she triumphantly survived all eventualities, a visible witness to the buoyancy of the ship.
While the plans were being completed, search was being made for a place where the vessel should be built; for though nominally a yacht, the finish and build of the Solent would have been out of place. It had been decided that she should be of wood, as easier to repair in case of accident where coral reefs and other unseen dangers abound; but the building of wooden ships is nearly extinct. The west country was visited, and an expedition made to Dundee and Aberdeen, but even there, the old home of whalers, ships are now built of steel; finally we fixed on Whitstable, from which place such vessels still ply round the coast. The keel was laid in the autumn of 1911; the following spring we took up our abode there to watch over her, and there in May 1912 she first took the water, being christened by the writer in approved fashion. “I name this ship Mana, and may the blessing of God go with her and all who sail in her" — a ceremony not to be performed without a lump in the throat. The choice of a name had been difficult; we had wished to give her one borne by some ship of Dr. Scoresby, the Arctic explorer, a friend of my husband's family whose name he received, but none of them proved to be suitable. The object was to find something which was both simple and uncommon; all appellations that were easy to grasp seemed to have been already adopted, while those that were unique lent themselves to error. “How would it do in a cable?” was the regulation test. Finally we hit on Mana, which is a word well known to anthropologists, and has the advantage of being familiar throughout the South Seas. We generally translated it somewhat freely as "good luck." It means, more strictly, supernatural power: a Polynesian would, for instance, describe the common idea of the effect of a horseshoe by saying that the shoe had "Mana." From a scientific standpoint Mana is probably the simplest form of religious conception. The yacht flew the burgee of the Royal Cruising Club.
From the time the prospective expedition became public we received a considerable amount of correspondence from strangers: some of it was from those who had special knowledge of the subject, and was highly valued; other letters had a comic element, being from various young men, who appeared to think that our few berths might be at the disposal of anyone who wanted to see the world. One letter, dated from a newspaper office, stated that its writer had no scientific attainments, but would be glad to get up any subject required in the time before sailing; the qualification of another for the post of steward was that he would be able to print the menus and ball programmes. The most quaint experience was in connection with a correspondent who gave a good name and address, and offered to put at our disposal some special knowledge on the subject of native lore, which he had collected as Governor of one of the South Sea islands. On learning our country address, he wrote that he was about to become the guest of some of our neighbours and would call upon us. It subsequently transpired that they knew nothing of him, but that he had written to them, giving our name. He did, in fact, turn up at our cottage during our absence, and obtained an excellent tea at the expense of the caretaker. The next we heard of him was from the keeper of a small hotel in the neighbourhood of Whitstable, where he had run up a large bill on the strength of a statement that he was one of our expedition, and we found later that he had shown a friend over the yacht while she was building, giving out he was a partner of my husband. We understand that after we started he appeared in the county court at the instance of the unfortunate innkeeper.
After much trouble we ultimately selected two colleagues from the older universities. The arrangement with one of these, an anthropologist, was, unfortunately, a failure, and ended at the Cape Verde Islands. The other, a geologist, Mr. Frederick Lowry-Corry, took up intermediate work in India, and subsequently joined us in South America. The Admiralty was good enough to place at our disposal a lieutenant on full pay for navigation, survey, and tidal observation. This post was ultimately filled by Lieutenant D. R. Ritchie, R.N.
With regard to the important matter of the crew, it was felt that neither merchant seamen nor yacht hands would be suitable, and a number of men were chosen from the Lowestoft fishing fleet. Subsequent delays, however, proved deleterious, the prospective "dangers" grew in size, and the only one who ultimately sailed with us was a boy, Charles C. Jeffery, who was throughout a loyal and valued member of the expedition. The places of the other men were supplied by a similar class from Brixham, who justified the selection. The mate, Preston, gave much valuable service, and one burly seaman in particular. Light by name, by his good-humour and intelligent criticism added largely to the amenity of the voyage. An engineer, who was also a photographer, was obtained from Glasgow. We were particularly fortunate in our sailing master, Mr. H. J. Gillam. He had seen, while in Japan, a notice of the expedition in a paper, and applied with keenness for the post; to his professional knowledge, loyalty, and pleasant companionship the successful achievement of the voyage is very largely due. The full complement of the yacht, in addition to the scientific members, consisted of the navigator, engineer, cook-steward, under-steward, and three men for each watch, making ten in all. S. was official master, and I received on the books the by no means honorary rank of stewardess.
Whitstable proved to be an unsuitable place for painting, so Mana made her first voyage round to Southampton Water, where she lay for a while in the Hamble River, and later at a yacht-builder's in Southampton. The steward on this trip took to his bed with seasickness; but as he was subsequently found surreptitiously eating the dinner which S. had been obliged to cook, we felt that he was not likely to prove a desirable shipmate, and he did not proceed further. We had hoped to sail in the autumn, but we had our full share of the troubles and delays which seem inevitably associated with yacht-building: the engine was months late in the installation, and then had to be rectified; the painting took twice as long as had been promised; and when we put out for trial trips there was trouble with the anchor which necessitated a return to harbour. The friends who had kindly assembled in July at the Hans Crescent Hotel to bid us good speed began to ask if we were ever really going to depart. We spent the winter practically living on board, attending to these affairs and to the complicated matter of stowage.
The general question of space had of course been very carefully considered in the original designs. The allowance for water was unusually large, the tanks containing sufficient for two, or with strict economy for three months; the object in this was not only safety in long or delayed passages, but to avoid taking in supplies in doubtful harbours. Portions of the hold had to be reserved of course for coal, and also for the welded steel tanks which contained the oil. When these essentials had been disposed of, still more intricate questions arose with regard to the allotment of room; it turned out to be greater than we had ventured to hope, but this in no way helped, as every department hastened to claim additional accommodation and to add something more to its stock. Nothing was more surprising all through the voyage than the yacht's elasticity: however much we took on board we got everything in, and however much we took out she was always quite full.
The outfit for the ship had of course been taken into consideration, but as departure drew near it seemed, from the standpoint of below decks, to surpass all reason; there were sails for fine weather and sails for stormy weather, and spare sails, anchors, and sea-anchors, one-third of a mile of cable, and ropes of every size and description.
As commissariat officer, the Stewardess naturally felt that domestic stores were of the first importance. Many and intricate calculations had been made as to the amount a man ate in a month, and the cubic space to be allowed for the same. It had been also a study in itself to find out what must come from England and what could be obtained elsewhere; kind correspondents in Buenos Aires and Valparaiso had helped with advice, and we arranged for fresh consignments from home to meet us in those ports, of such articles as were not to be procured there or were inordinately expensive. The general amount of provisions on board was calculated for six months, but smaller articles, such as tea, were taken in sufficient quantities for the two years which it was at the time assumed would be the duration of the trip. We brought back on our return a considerable amount of biscuits, for it was found possible to bake on board much oftener than we had dared to hope. As a yacht we were not obliged to conform to the merchant service scale of provisions, our ship's articles guaranteeing "sufficiency and no waste." The merchant scale was constantly referred to, but it is, by universal agreement, excessive, and leads to much waste, as the men are liable to claim what they consider their right, whether they consume the ration or not; the result is that a harbour may not unfrequently be seen covered with floating pieces of bread, or even whole loaves. The quantity asked for by our men of any staple foods was always given, and there were the usual additions, but we subsisted on about three-fourths of the legal ration. We had only one case of illness requiring a doctor, and then it was diagnosed as "the result of over-eating." It was a source of satisfaction that we never throughout the voyage ran short of any essential commodity.
There were other matters in the household department for which it was even more difficult to estimate than for the actual food — how many cups and saucers, for example, should we break per month, and how many reams of paper and quarts of ink ought we to take. Our books had of course to be largely scientific, a sovereign's worth of cheap novels was a boon, but we often yearned unutterably for a new book. Will those who have friends at the ends of the earth remember the godsend to them of a few shillings so invested, as a means of bringing fresh thoughts and a sense of civilised companionship? For a library for the crew we were greatly indebted to the kindness of Lord Radstock and the Passmore Edwards Ocean Library. We were subsequently met at every available port by a supply of newspapers, comprising the weekly editions of the Times and Daily Graphic, the Spectator; and the papers of two Societies for Women's Suffrage.
In addition to the requirements for the voyage the whole equipment for landing had to be foreseen and stowed, comprising such things as tents, saddlery, beds, buckets, basins, and cooking-pots. We later regretted the space given to some of the enamelled iron utensils, as they can be quite well procured in Chile, while cotton and other goods which we had counted on procuring there for barter were practically unobtainable. Some sacks of old clothes which we took out for gifts proved most valuable. Among late arrivals that clamoured for peculiar consideration were the scientific outfits, which attained to gigantic proportions. S., who had studied at one time at University College Hospital, was our doctor, and the medical and surgical stores were imposing: judging from the quantity of bandages, we were each relied on to break a leg once a month. Everybody had photographic gear; the geologist appeared with a huge pestle and other goods; there was anthropological material for the preserving of skulls; the surveying instruments looked as if they would require a ship to themselves; while cases of alarming size arrived from the Admiralty and Royal Geographical Society, containing sounding machines and other mysterious articles. The owners of all these treasures argued earnestly that they were of the essence of the expedition, and must be treated with respect accordingly. Then of course things turned up for which everyone had forgotten to allow room, such as spare electric lamps, also a trammel and seine, each of fifty fathoms, to secure fish in port. Before we finally sailed a large consignment appeared of bonded tobacco for the crew, and the principal hold was sealed by the Customs, necessitating a temporary sacrifice of the bathroom for last articles.
This packing of course all took time, especially as nothing could be allowed to get wet, and a rainy or stormy day hung up all operations. Finally, however, on the afternoon of February 28th, 1913, the anchor was weighed, and we went down Southampton Water under power. We were at last off for Easter Island!
We had a good passage down the Channel, stopped awhile at Dartmouth, for the Brixham men to say good-bye to their families, and arrived at Falmouth on March 6th. Here there was experienced a tiresome delay of nearly three weeks. The wind, which in March might surely have seen its way to be easterly, and had long been from that direction, turned round and blew a strong gale from the south-west. The harbour was white with little waves, and crowded with shipping of every description, from battleships to fishing craft. Occasionally a vessel would venture out to try to get round the Lizard, only to return beaten by the weather. We had while waiting the sad privilege of rendering a last tribute to our friend Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, the author of Italy and her Invaders, who just before our arrival had passed where "tempests cease and surges swell no more." He rests among his own people in the quiet little Quaker burial-ground.
It was not till Lady Day, Tuesday, March 25th, that the wind changed sufficiently to allow of departure; then there was a last rush on shore to obtain sailing supplies of fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables, and to send off good-bye telegrams. Everything was triumphantly squeezed in somewhere and carefully secured, so that nothing should shift when the roll began. The only articles which found no home were two sacks of potatoes, which had to remain on the cabin floor, because the space assigned to them below hatches had, in my absence on shore, been nefariously appropriated by the Sailing-master for an additional supply of coal.
It was dark before all was ready, and we left Falmouth Harbour with the motor; then out into the ocean, the sails hoisted, the Lizard Light sighted, and good-bye to England!
"Two years," said our friends, "that is a long time to be away." "Oh no," we had replied; "we shall find when we come back that everything is just the same; it always is. You will still be talking of Militants, and Labour Troubles, and Home Rule; there will be a few new books to read, the children will be a little taller — that will be all." But the result was otherwise.