Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The Sacramento Daily Union, August 30, 1866

Kealakekua Bay (S. I.), 1866


When I digressed from my personal narrative to write about Cook's death I left myself, solitary, hungry and dreary, smoking in the little warehouse at Kealakekua Bay. Brown was out somewhere gathering up a fresh lot of specimens, having already discarded those he dug out of the old lava flow during the afternoon. I soon went to look for him. He had returned to the great slab of lava upon which Cook stood when he was murdered, and was absorbed in maturing a plan for blasting it out and removing it to his home as a specimen. Deeply pained at the bare thought of such a sacrilege, I reprimanded him severely and at once removed him from the scene of temptation. We took a walk then, the rain having moderated considerably. We clambered over the surrounding lava field, through masses of weeds, and stood for a moment upon the door step of an ancient ruin - the house once occupied by the aged King of Hawaii - and I reminded Brown that that very stone step was the one across which Captain Cook drew the reluctant old king when he turned his foot steps for the last time toward his ship.

I checked a movement on Mr. Brown's part: "No," I said, "let it remain; seek specimens of a less hallowed nature than this historical stone."

We also strolled along the beach toward the precipice of Kealakeliua and gazed curiously at the semicircular holes high up in its face - graves, they are, of ancient kings and chiefs - and wondered how the natives ever managed to climb from the sea up the sheer wall and make those holes and deposit their packages of patrician bones in them.

Tramping about in the rear of the warehouse, we suddenly came upon another object of interest. It was a cocoanut stump, four or five feet high, and about a foot in diameter at the butt. It had lava bowlders piled around its base to hold it up and keep it in its place, and it was entirely sheathed over, from top to bottom, with rough, discolored sheets of copper, such as ships' bottoms are coppered with. Each sheet had a rude inscription scratched upon it - with a nail, apparently - and in every case the execution was wretched. It was almost dark by this time, and the inscriptions would have been difficult to read even at noonday, but with patience and industry I finally got them all in my note-book. They read as follows:

"Near this spot fell
The Distinguished Circumnavigator
who Discovered these islands A.D. 1778.
His Majesty's Ship Imogene,
October 17, 1837."

"Parties from H. M. ship Vixen visited this spot Jan. 25 1858.''

"This sheet and capping put on by Sparrowhawk September 16, 1839, in order to preserve this monument to the memory of Cook."

"Captain Montressor and officers of H. M. S. Calypso visited this spot the 18th of October, 1858."

"This tree having fallen, was replaced on this spot by H. M. S. V. Cormorant, G. T. Gordon, Esq., Captain, who visited this bay May 18, 1846."

"This bay was visited, July 4, 1843, by H. M. S. Carysfort, the Right Honorable Lord George Paulet, Captain, to whom, as the representative of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, these islands were ceded, February 25, 1843."

After Cook's murder, his second in command, on board the ship, opened fire upon the swarms of natives on the beach, and one of his cannon balls cut this cocoanut tree short off and left this monumental stump standing. It looked sad and lonely enough out there in the rainy twilight. But there is no other monument to Captain Cook. True, up on the mountain side we had passed by a large inclosure like an ample hog-pen, built of lava blocks, which marks the spot where Cook's flesh was stripped from his bones and burned; but this is not properly a monument, since it was erected by the natives themselves, and less to do honor to the circumnavigator than for the sake of convenience in roasting him. A thing like a guideboard was elevated above this pen on a tall pole and formerly there was an inscription upon it describing the memorable occurrence that had there taken place; but the sun and the wind have long ago so defaced it as to render it illegible.


The sky grew overcast, and the night settled down gloomily. Brown and I went and sat on the little wooden pier, saying nothing, for we were tired and hungry and did not feel like talking. There was no wind; the drizzling, melancholy rain was still falling, and not a sound disturbed the brooding silence save the distant roar of the surf and the gentle washing of the wavelets against the rocks at our feet. We were very lonely. No sign of the vessel. She was still becalmed at sea no doubt. After an hour of sentimental meditation, I bethought me of working upon the feelings of my comrade. The surroundings were in every way favorable to the experiment. I concluded to sing - partly because music so readily touches the tender emotions of the heart, and partly because the singing of pathetic ballads and such things is an art in which I have been said to excel. In a voice tremulous with feeling, I began:

"'Mid pleasures and palaces though we
may roam, Be it ever so humble there's no place
like home; H-o -m -e - ho-home - sweet,
swe-he-he - "

My poor friend rose up slowly and came and stood before me and said:

"Now look a-here, Mark - it ain't no time, and it ain't no place, for you to be going on in that way. I'm hungry, and I'm tired, and wet; and I ain't going to be put upon and aggravated when I'm so miserable. If you was to start in on any more yowling like that, I'd shove you overboard - I would, by geeminy."

"Poor vulgar creature," I said to myself, "he knows no better. I have not the heart to blame him. How sad a lot is his, and how much he is to be pitied, in that his soul is dead to the heavenly charm of music. I cannot sing for this man; I cannot sing for him while he has that dangerous calm in his voice, at any rate."


We spent another hour in silence and in profound depression of spirits; it was so gloomy and so still, and so lonesome, with nothing human any where neat save those bundles of dry kingly bones hidden in the face of the cliff. Finally Brown said it was hard to have to sit still and starve with plenty of delicious food and drink just beyond our reach - rich young cocoanuts! I said, "what an idiot you are not to have thought of it before. Get up and stir yourself; in five minutes we shall have a feast and be jolly and contented again!"

The thought was cheering in the last degree, and in a few moments we were in the grove of cocoa palms, and their ragged plumes were dimly visible through the wet haze, high above our heads. I embraced one of the smooth slender trunks, with the thought of climbing it, but it looked very far to the top, and of course there were no knots or branches to assist the climber, and so I sighed and walked sorrowfully away.

"Thunder! what was that!"

It was only Brown. He had discharged a prodigious lava-block at the top of a tree, and it fell back to the earth with a crash that tore up the dead silence of the palace like an avalanche. As soon as I understood the nature of the case I recognized the excellence of the idea. I said as much to Brown, and told him to fire another volley. I cannot throw lava-blocks with any precision, never having been used to them, and therefore I apportioned our labor with that fact in view, and signified to Brown that he would only have to knock the cocoanuts down - I would pick them up myself.

Brown let drive with another bowlder. It went singing through the air and just grazed a cluster of nuts hanging fifty feet above ground. '

'Well done!" said I; "try it again."

He did so. The result was precisely the same.

"Well done again!" said I; "move your hind-sight a shade to the left, and let her have it once more."

Brown sent another bowlder hurling through the dingy air - too much elevation - it just passed over the cocoanut tuft.

"Steady, lad," said I; "you scatter too much. Now - one, two, fire!" and the next missile clove through the tuft and a couple of long, slender leaves came floating down to the earth. "Good!" I said, "depress your piece a line."

Brown paused and panted like an exhausted dog; then he wiped some perspiration from his face - a quart of it, he said - and discarded his coat, vest and cravat. The next shot fell short. He said, "I'm letting down; them large bowlders are monstrous responsible rocks to send up there, but they're rough on the arms."

He then sent a dozen smaller stones in quick success;on after the fruit, and some of them struck in the right place, but the result was - nothing. I said he might stop and rest awhile.

"Oh, never mind," he said, "I don't care to take any advantage - I don't want to rest until you do. But it's singular to me how you always happen to divide up the work about the same way. I'm to knock 'em down, and you're to pick 'em up. I'm of the opinion that you're going to wear yourself down to just nothing but skin and bones on this trip, if you ain't more careful. Oh, don't mind about me resting - I can't be tired - I ain't hove only about eleven ton of rocks up into that liberty pole."

"Mr. Brown, I am surprised at you. This is mutiny."

"Oh, well, I don't care what it is - mutiny, sass or what you please - I'm so hungry that I don't care for nothing."

It was on my lips to correct his loathsome grammar, but I considered the dire extremity he was in, and with held the deserved reproof.

After some time spent in mutely longing for the coveted fruit, I suggested to Brown that if he would climb the tree I would hold his hat. His hunger was so great that he finally concluded to try it. His exercise had made him ravenous. But the experiment was not a success. With infinite labor and a great deal of awkwardly constructed swearing, he managed to get up some thirty feet, but then he came to an uncommonly smooth place and began to slide back slowly but surely. He clasped the tree with his arms and legs, and tried to save himself, but he had got too much sternway, and the thing was impossible; he dragged for a few feet and then shot down like an arrow.

"It is tabu," he said, sadly. "Let's go back to the pia. The transom to my trowsers has all fetched away, and the legs of them are riddled to rags and ribbons. I wish I was drunk, or dead, or something - anything so as to be out of this misery."

I glanced over my shoulders, as we walked along, and observed that some of the clouds had parted and left a dim lighted doorway through to the skies beyond; in this place, as in an ebony frame, our majestic palm stood up and reared its graceful crest aloft; the slender stem was a dean, black line the feathers of the plume - some erect some projecting horizontally, some drooping a little and others hanging languidly down toward the earth - were all sharply cut against the smooth gray background.

"A beautiful, beautiful tree is the cocoa-palm!" I said, fervently.

"I don't see it," said Brown, resent fully. "People that haven't clumb one are always driveling about how pretty it is. And when they make pictures of these hot countries they always shove one of the ragged things into the foreground. I don't see what there is about it that's handsome; it looks like a feather-duster struck by lightning."

Perceiving that Brown's mutilated pantaloons were disturbing his gentle spirit, I said no more.


Toward midnight a native boy came down from the uplands to see if the Boomerang had got in yet, and we chartered him for subsistence service. For the sum of twelve and a half cents in coin he agreed to furnish cocoanuts enough for a dozen men at five minutes' notice. He disappeared in the murky atmosphere, and in a few seconds we saw a little black object, like a rat, running up our tall tree and pretty distinctly defined against the light place in the sky; it was our Kanaka, and he performed his contract without tearing his clothes - but then he had none on, except those he was born in. He brought five large nuts and tore the tough green husks off with his strong teeth, and thus prepared the fruit for use. We perceived then that it was about as well that we failed in our endeavors, as we never could have gnawed the husks off. I would have kept Brown trying, though, as long as he had any teeth. We punched the eye-holes out and drank the sweet (and at the same time pungent) milk of two of the nuts, and our hunger and thirst were satisfied. The boy broke them open and we ate some of the mushy, white paste inside for pastime, but we had no real need of it.

After a while a fine breeze sprang up and the schooner soon worked into the bay and cast anchor. The boat came ashore for us, and in a little while the clouds and the rain were gone. The moon was beaming tranquilly down on land and sea, and we two were stretched upon the deck sleeping the refreshing sleep and dreaming the happy dreams that are only vouchsafed to the weary and the innocent.


Return to Sacramento Daily Union index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search