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Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, Vol. IVoyaging Accounts
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Nova Britannia


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Nova Britannia (continued)

east variation; and at night we discovered a fine large island, forcing a streight or passage with New Ireland. As it was very dark and squally, with rain, we brought to, not knowing to what danger the navigation of this streight might expose us. The night was tempestuous, with much thunder and lightning, but about two in the morning the weather cleared: the gusts settled into a light breeze, and the the moon shone very bright. At this time therefore we made sail again, and found a strong current setting us to the westward, through the passage of the Second Narrow, which is about five leagues wide. The island, which has a pleasant appearance, and is very populous, I called SANDWICH ISLAND, in honour of the Earl, now First Lord of the Admiralty: it is larger than the Duke of Yorks Island, and there seems to be some good bays and harbours upon the coast. On the north part of it there is a remarkable peak, like a sugar loaf; and opposite to it, upon the coast of New Ireland, there is just such another: they are distant about five leagues, in the direction of S. by E. ½ E. and N. by W. ½ W. All the while we lay to off this island, we heard an incessant noise in the night, like the beating of a drum: and being becalmed just as we got through the Streight, ten canoes put off from New Ireland, with about one hundred and fifty men on board, and rowed towards the ship; they came near enough to exchange some trifles with us, which were conveyed at the end of a long stick, but none of them would venture on board. They seemed to prefer such iron as we gave them to every thing else, though none of it was manufactured except nails; for, as I observed before, we had no cutlery ware on board. The canoes were very long and very narrow, with an outrigger, and some of them were very neatly made: one of them could not be less than ninety feet long, for it was very little shorter than the ship; it was, notwithstanding, formed of a single tree; it had some carved ornaments about it, and was rowed or paddled by three and thirty men: we saw no appearance of sails. The people are black, and woolly-headed, like Negroes, but have not the flat nose and thick lips; and we thought them much the same people as the inhabitants of Egmonts Island: like them, they were all stark naked, except a few ornaments made of shells upon their arms and legs. They had, however, adopted a practice without which none of our belles and beaus are supposed to be completely drest, for the hair, or rather the wool upon their heads, was very abundantly powdered with white powder: the fashion of wearing powder, therefore, is probably of higher antiquity than it is generally supposed to be, as well as of more extensive influence; it is indeed carried farther among these people than among any of the inhabitants of Europe, for they powder not only their heads but their beards too. Their heads however were decorated with more showy ornaments, for I observed that most of them had, just above one ear, stuck a feather, which appeared to have been taken from the tail of the common dunghil cock; so that these gentlemen are not without poultry for their table. They were armed with spears, and long sticks or poles, like the quarter-staff; but we did not see any bows and arrows among them: possibly they might have them on board, and think proper to keep them out of sight. On my part, I kept every body at their quarters while they were hovering about the ship, and I observed that they had a very watchful eye upon our guns, as if they apprehended danger from them; so that possibly they are not wholly unacquainted with the effect of firearms. They had fishing nets with them, which as well as their cordage, seemed to be very well made. After they had been some time with us, a breeze sprung up, and they returned to the shore.


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© Derived from Volume I of the London 1773 Edition: National Library of Australia call no. FERG 7243, page 600, 2004
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